New Body Cam Law Pits Accessibility Versus Affordability

Local News
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Indiana’s new police body camera video law and subsequent change in Evansville Police Department policy has pitted accessibility versus affordability. The law, which went into effect July 1st, grants the public greater access to police body camera videos but requires expensive technology and storage upgrades for local police departments. To keep the program viable, EPD had to increase the fee to obtain a copy of a video from $25 to $150, said Capt. Stephanie Cox.

In February 2014, the Evansville Police Department became one of the first agencies in the state to implement a department-wide body camera program. When the program first started and cameras were issued to more than 200 officers, the department averaged 8000 videos per month.

That figure has now ballooned to 15,000 videos per month, Capt. Cox said.

On July 1st, the new state law regarding public access to body camera videos went into effect. The new law allows people involved in a police incident, victims of a crime or the general public to view a video for free. However, obtaining a physical copy of the video comes at a cost.

The department released a records request form on Tuesday that requires anyone wanting to obtain a physical copy of body camera video to pay $150 per video, the maximum allowed by state law.

Capt. Cox was one of several people who made up a committee that was tasked with formulating the department’s new policy.

“Its kind of uncharted territory. We’re working our way through it to make sure we comply with all the laws and be as transparent as possible without being too much of a financial burden on the police department as well,” Capt. Cox said. “I don’t think the general public fully appreciates how financially devastating this can be to the police department.”

According to the new law, agencies are required to blur out and obscure private information including forms of identification. The Evansville Police Department may be forced to dedicate an employee to this task because of the time it takes to locate, retrieve and then alter the videos.

“With the new camera laws, there are things that we didn’t have to budget for before,” Capt. Cox said. “One of the big things is the software that it takes, the technology that it takes to basically edit these videos. We went through so much trouble to make sure we got software that couldn’t be edited because we didn’t want any sort of allegation or doctoring any of these videos.”

The law also requires agencies to digitally store body camera videos. Because of this, many agencies will have to increase their amount of digital storage.

Some police departments elsewhere across the state, including Clarksville and Indianapolis, have scrapped or shelved their body camera programs simply because of the cost.

The increase in copying fee is solely intended to help cover the increasing costs of items mandated by the new law, Capt. Cox said.

“That is strictly what it’s for. We’re just trying not to go financially under,” Capt. Cox said. “It could be impossible for us to keep up with this unless we have a way to recoup the cost.”

The increase in the copying fee has some worried that it might discourage members of the public especially those in poor, minority communities, from obtaining copies of police encounters. However, members of the public who wish to file a complaint against an officer are allowed the ability to view the video for free beforehand.

“$150? That’s ludicrous,” said Fred Cook, a member of the Coalition of Inner City Neighborhoods. “With technology the way it is today, it should not cost $150 [for the public] to have access the videos. There’s a lot of cost-cutting [the police department] can do to save money.”

Cook firmly believes the body cameras are a useful and vital tool, as does Capt. Cox. However, Cook worries that many people in poorer communities will not be able to afford physical copies of body camera videos.
“It has protected people on both sides of the lens. It has protected the police. It has protected the citizens,” Cook said. “For them to come to a rate of $150 is ludicrous.”

Capt. Cox stressed that the increase in copying fee is the department’s only recourse in maintaining the body camera program despite the mounting costs. The department has spent $60,000 to upgrade it’s storage server in order to accommodate more videos. The costs of the actual equipment and network system doesn’t take into account the resources the department will have to dedicate to fulfilling the public’s records requests.

“We want to be able to sustain this program and that’s really the only way we’re going to be able to do it,” Capt. Cox said.

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