Police body camera policy to go to Lawrence City Commission for comment

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 will be reviewing the Lawrence Police Department’s policy for body cameras, but city officials advised that some aspects would be outside commissioners’ authority.

At the City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Leslie Soden again asked about the review of the body camera policy and what kind of input the commission wanted to have.

“It seems like I’m the one that’s pushing that we even talk about it, so I wanted to hear you all’s ideas,” Soden said.

Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said her assumption had been that the policy would go back to the commission for review and that commissioners would be allowed to comment on it, but she asked City Manager Tom Markus whether that was indeed the case.

Markus, who was not present at the commission’s last meeting when Soden previously brought up the topic, said that was correct. However, he said some aspects of the policy were more procedural matters rather than policy matters and fell under the authority of the police chief, while other aspects were subject to federal and state laws.

“There’s the procedural issues that the police deal with in the actual application of the use of the tool live on the street, and then there’s a big part of procedural issues that relate to the retrieval and availability of the tape information and how long we hold onto that and who has access to that,” Markus said. “And you get into some constitutional right issues and you get into state statutory issues.”

Even so, Markus said the idea has been to allow the commission to “comment on” the policy and that those comments would be taken under consideration in the final draft. He said the city would lay all the authority issues out for the commission but he suspected that at the end of the day the commission may wonder how much to comment on some elements of the policy because of those aspects.

Markus said he thought it would be helpful for the commission to see the body camera equipment the police would be using, and he said that city staff planned to do a demonstration.

Body camera policies generally determine aspects such as when cameras are turned on, what happens with the footage that is captured and how much discretion the police department has in those decisions. An update in 2016 to Kansas open records law classified body camera footage as criminal investigation records, which are exempt from mandatory public disclosure but could be disclosed at the discretion of law enforcement.

Mayor Stuart Boley said that he would also like to be more informed on the parameters of the state law that would affect the policy before commenting on what ought to be included. Boley also said it was important to realize the body camera rollout wasn’t happening in a vacuum, and he noted that the city was initiating the Community Police Review Board and Disproportionate Minority Contact study.

“So, I think these things are working together to improve our community relations and the efforts of the police,” Boley said.

In August, Police Capt. Trent McKinley told the Journal-World that the U.S. Department of Justice was revising a draft policy that the police department developed for the use of body cameras. When asked if the City Commission would also consider and approve the body camera policy, he’d said the police department did not generally have the commission review department policies and he was not aware of such a plan.

At the commission’s last meeting, Soden questioned why the commission was not scheduled to review the body camera policy, noting that the commission was scheduled to review the downtown public camera policy. Soden said at the time that she thought it was great that the Department of Justice was reviewing the policy but that the commission, as representatives of the people, should have a say as well.

Markus said that when the body camera policy had come up in the past, the plan has been to ultimately bring the policy in front of the City Commission for comment but that the Department of Justice review of the policy is part of the reason the process has been delayed.

“When this is ready for prime time, we’ll certainly bring it to you,” Markus said. “And I think that was my commitment to you a long time ago when we had that earlier conversation.”

Originally, the city planned to have the body cameras implemented this year, but the rollout has now been pushed to 2019. Testing of various body camera models is scheduled to begin this fall, once the Department of Justice approves the body camera policy.


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