Editorial: City input key to body camera law

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The Lawrence City Commission should review and offer input on the Lawrence Police Department’s policy for body cameras as Commissioner Leslie Soden suggested.

During the commission’s meeting last week, Soden questioned why the governing body was not scheduled to review the policy for police use of body cameras when the commission is reviewing the downtown public camera policy.

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

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

Once the Department of Justice finishes its review of the policy, police will begin testing cameras later this year.

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 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 but can be disclosed at the discretion of law enforcement.

Soden got little in the way of support from her fellow commissioners. Stuart Boley, Lisa Larsen and Matthew Herbert were largely ambivalent on the matter.

Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said she didn’t want a commission review to delay the process. Still, she indicated she was open to 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.”

Police body camera footage can be critical in documenting interactions between police and the public, and thereby protecting the interests of both. But law gives police broad discretion to withhold such video, which often can be the source of friction and mistrust.

Perhaps the City Commission doesn’t need a formal review of the body-camera policy; however, commissioners can and should offer their input that the policy support the broadest use possible of body cameras, and transparency in the release of body camera footage.

Police body cameras should enhance the police department’s relationship with the community, and city commissioners should ensure that the body camera policy does that.

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