Bill seeks balance on release of police body-cam videos

From The Columbus Dispatch

Legislation spelling out when police body-camera videos will be released to the public — or not — strikes a balance between privacy and transparency, advocates say.

The bill unveiled on Monday by sponsoring state Reps. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, and Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, would declare that videos from body-worn cameras are public records that must be provided to Ohioans on request.

The bill makes clear that the public has a right to the release of videos in which police officers kill or seriously injure suspects in all circumstances, regardless of whether it’s a private home or on the street.

However, the legislation contains several exemptions when the videos captured by police would not be released, such as videos shot within businesses and private homes and those that show a victim of a sex crime or domestic violence and dead, seriously injured or naked subjects.

Advocates view police body cameras as increasing officer accountability for their actions while also potentially protecting officers against unfounded allegations of abuse and misconduct.

“It’s the Wild West right now,” with law enforcement agencies differing in their approaches to release of video from body-worn cameras, Antani said. “It was very important to protect privacy interests” by introducing a bill to control video release statewide, he said.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther joined the Statehouse news conference to describe the city’s commitment to police body cameras as “increasing accountability and transparency on both sides of the camera.” He supports the bill for its common-sense approach.

Columbus, which so far has rolled out cameras to 501 police officers, is spending $9.1 million to equip a total of 1,300 officers with the $735 body cameras by the end of 2018, said Cathy Collins, an assistant public safety director. Computer storage of archived digital video accounts for nearly $4.2 million of the spending.

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