Soden says Lawrence City Commission should have say on police body camera policy

photo by: Associated Press

In this file photo from April 26, 2017, a police officer wears a body camera during a news conference in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Lawrence city commissioners briefly discussed whether they should have any input on the Lawrence police department policy for body cameras, but whether they will remains unclear.

During the Lawrence City Commission meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Leslie Soden questioned why the governing body was not scheduled to review the policy for the police department’s use of body cameras. Soden noted that the commission will be reviewing the downtown public camera policy but is not scheduled to review the body camera policy.

The Journal-World recently reported that the U.S. Department of Justice will be reviewing the body camera policy before police begin testing cameras this year, and Soden said she thought that was great but that she thinks the commission should have input on the policy as well.

“I think it’s important, as representatives of the people, to have a say into the body camera policy,” Soden said.

Body camera policies generally determine aspects such as when cameras are turned on, what becomes of the footage they capture and how much discretion police officers have in those decisions. An update made in 2016 to the Kansas open records law classifies body camera footage as criminal investigation records, which are exempt from mandatory public disclosure.

City Commission Meeting 09/04/18

When none of her fellow commissioners immediately offered any thoughts on the matter, which Soden brought up during the commission items portion of the meeting, she asked if anyone else agreed.

Mayor Stuart Boley responded that he actually hadn’t thought about it and would have to do so. Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she could see the commission “needing to have some input,” but that she would also have to think about it.

Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said she appreciated Soden’s comment but said she would like to know what the commission’s process generally is regarding external policies. She added that she thinks having the Department of Justice review the policy goes a long way, and she didn’t want a commission review to delay the process. Still, she indicated she was open to some level of input.

“So how can we do that effectively and without causing this to take longer, because it has taken an exceptionally long time, in my opinion,” Ananda said. “So I do want to see it move, and I would rather have it as a check on ensuring that it gets done in a timely manner than us setting a policy about which we have no expertise. Having input is different.”

When Soden asked Commissioner Matthew Herbert if he had any thoughts on the matter, he said that he did not.

The city has estimated that the implementation of the body camera program will cost about $500,000. Half the money to purchase the cameras themselves, which are budgeted to cost $462,000, will be funded by a federal grant. The Department of Justice is providing $231,000 toward the purchase, and the City of Lawrence is matching those funds. The city also budgeted about $45,000 this year for a technician, whom the department was scheduled to hire halfway through the year.

Police Capt. Trent McKinley recently told the Journal-World that the Department of Justice is still revising a draft policy that the police department developed for the use of the body cameras. He said the police department did not generally have the City Commission review department policies.

Once the Department of Justice approves the policy, the police department is scheduled to begin an approximately three-month period testing various models of body cameras before deciding which one to purchase, according to a city memo. The body camera program will be fully implemented sometime next year.


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