Editorial from The Canton Repository Police departments across Stark County and the state could glean a lot from the Canton Police Department and its use of body cameras.
The department explored using cameras before civil rights groups and others called for them in response to a nationwide series of police-involved shootings. Cameras provide another layer of accountability and transparency.
Chief Bruce Lawver says they’ve been a success in the first nine months they’ve been in use. Canton Police Patrolmen’s Association President Bill Adams welcomes the cameras, unlike some other police union presidents in the state.
The department’s policy is based on standards set by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Across the state, though, some departments are unsure of which rules to follow or what footage is considered an open record. Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board is crafting statewide standards that will involve privacy, operations, public records and other issues.
Last month, Ohio lawmakers introduced a bill that would require police departments to have a policy on how cameras are used and make that policy available to the public. The idea, one lawmaker told the Associated Press, is to create a structure and framework for the use of these cameras because policies seem to be inconsistent across the state.
The bill allows for some flexibility of policy from one department to the next.
What it does not do is say who should have access to the video footage, or how it should be stored, archived and retained.
While we believe body camera video is subject to current public records laws, the mobility of these cameras has prompted constitutional questions about privacy. And the issue over how video footage is archived could become a cost issue for departments over time, which is why clear and concise policies are needed. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, recommends departments keep videos of alleged misconduct for two years.
Other states have taken rigid stances on the footage. South Carolina lawmakers passed a law last year exempting body camera video from its public records laws. Proposed legislation in Louisiana and Missouri would do the same in most situations.
Without specific state or federal rules in place, the Canton Law Department has, wisely, applied basic public records laws when it comes to body camera video and is using “best practices as we go,” Law Director Joseph Martuccio told the Rep’s Kelly Byer. Still, the department doesn’t have a retention schedule. Nor did it provide a specific explanation for why portions of video Byer requested were redacted — only the general reasons why it could be.
That’s why lawmakers would be wise to remove any doubt for departments crafting these policies. In most situations, body camera footage belongs to the public. Ohio needs uniform policies stating just that.