As the Chairman of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice committee, one of the important issues my committee is addressing in legislation this year is the regulation of the use of body cameras worn by police officers. This new and emerging law enforcement tool is being adopted and implemented in many jurisdictions across the state. However, right now the regulation of when to use them, how to retain the recordings, and what privacy standards to use is piecemeal because we lack a an overarching state law on the issue. Camera recordings are an important part of the justice system.
I believe there are some areas where we want consistent and uniform policy throughout the state so that each officer and citizen has the same expectations of how the recordings will be treated and used in criminal or other proceedings. Not all recording are critical to save for long periods of time. For instance, recording that fall in the critical incident category should be saved for a longer amount of time than recordings of inconsequential interactions. However, once we set the timelines for each category of recording, those category times should be consistent statewide. Also, a universal policy on how to treat any recordings that contain nudity, gore or children is a must. Body cameras are an important tool for a variety of reasons, but if used incorrectly the tool could have damaging effects. Privacy of citizens is important and I believe we should error on the side of marking the recordings private.
There are two different bills that have been proposed to set these universal laws. The first, HB 300 Body-Worn Cameras for Law Enforcement by Rep. Dan McCay sets the laws for body cameras in state statute including items like when to turn the camera off and on, how to announce a camera is in use, and how to display the camera. The bill would give some leeway to local community to set some regulations as well. The second bill, SB 94 Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras by Sen. Dan Thatcher would designate the Peace Officer Standards and Training Division (POST) as the entity to establish and implement statewide guidelines for camera use, length of film retention, and standard implementation. The reasons why this sponsor feels designating POST as the entity with the statewide authority is because this is an area of new and emerging technology that might need updates or revisions sooner than the annual 45-day legislative session can accommodate. In addition, the sponsor believes that POST will have more expertise on what types of situations and realistic expectations a law enforcement officer with a camera is likely to encounter.
I am confident that as we debate these two bill and consider that best policy for Utahns, we will find the best way to enact these universal standards and ensure everyone has the same expectations for body cameras no matter where in the state they happen to live or travel.