(Editor’s Note: KPA has been assured that before any legislation is drafted, we will again be able to state KPA’s position that the police camera footage is a public record. We have also supplied the public agencies — cities and law enforcement agencies — with language that would exempt the news media from any restrictions on accessing body cam footage. Those meetings with KPA should take place in September before any legislation is drafted.)
By the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
Kentucky law enforcement agencies that use body cameras want clear rules on what footage from the cameras can be disclosed and who can access it.
Although body cameras, also known as body-worn cameras, used by law enforcement are not new, they have come to national prominence in the past couple of years through news reports. Several states have laws regarding disclosure of body camera footage, but Kentucky does not. House Bill 416, filed last session by Rep. Robert Benvenuti, spelled out procedures for body camera footage disclosure here in the Commonwealth but didn’t pass into law.
Thursday, Benvenuti, R-Lexington, appeared before a joint meeting of the legislative Interim Joint Committees on Local Government and State Government in Richmond with law enforcement officers from across Kentucky and the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) to reissue his call for a legal framework that will govern disclosure of body camera recordings under the Kentucky Open Records Act.
The framework proposed by Benvenuti and others would not mandate the use of body cameras—something Benvenuti said would be much too costly—but would set out procedures for disclosure and “balance privacy interests with the public’s right to know,” according to a handout provided to the committee by KLC. Proposed exemptions from disclosure would include footage of a sexual nature, the body of a deceased person, private homes and more.
The framework would also preserve the integrity of law enforcement investigations by not interfering in required reporting, and would not change rules of evidence gathering in criminal or civil actions or administrative proceedings, the handout said.
On a personal level, Benvenuti said video from body cameras is not only protection for officers and the public, but is a good training tool for law enforcement.
“I can’t find one officer who says, ‘I don’t think they’re good,’” Benvenuti said of body cameras. But officers also want the footage from those cameras to be used properly, and respectfully, said Louisville Metro Officer Nick Jilek, who is also a legislative agent with the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police.
“Body camera footage should not be used for entertainment purposes, which is what it ends up being,” in some instances, Jilek said, adding that body camera footage should also require a disclaimer to clarify that it is only one piece of evidence, or “one part of the story.”
The footage can be “misunderstood, misrepresented and exploited,” he said.
Rep. Rob Rothenburger, R-Shelbyville, said the framework may also need to address disclosure of footage at fire scenes and the use of next-generation 9-1-1, or NG911, recordings that allow audio and video to flow instantly from the public to emergency responders through the 9-1-1 system. Benvenuti said fire agencies and other areas are addressed in his proposed framework, but asked that Rothenburger look at the language and determine if it is sufficient.
Current state law requires that body-worn camera footage be retained by the state Department for Libraries and Archives, which has a schedule for how long body-worn camera audio and video recordings are kept. Footage may be retained from 30 days to 26 months, depending on the situation.
Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, said body cameras are not just helpful to law enforcement but are favored by private citizens. Scott asked the law enforcement officers testifying with Benvenuti if there are protections in place to ensure the footage is handled, and edited, fairly.
Yes, responded Bellevue Police Chief Wayne Turner, who is also with the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police. He said commonly-used software limits editing and policies are in place to ensure the cameras are running when they’re supposed to.
“Our policy says if you’re having an interaction with a citizen, you will record it,” said Turner.
Also brought before the joint committee was a brief presentation of the Kentucky Post-Critical Incident Seminar or KYPCIS, a program overseen by the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training that addresses post-traumatic stress of law enforcement officers. KYPCIS organizers told the joint committee that legislation is needed to support the program.