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Lawmakers hear from advocates on police body-camera rules

August 27, 2015

Indiana lawmakers studying possible restrictions on the public release of police body-camera footage heard an impassioned plea Wednesday from a woman who is fighting to get a video of her husband's shooting death by Indianapolis police.

Debbie Long said authorities have repeatedly rebuffed her request for complete footage of the April shooting of her husband, Mack Long, 36.

"Why is the video being held?" Debbie Long asked the Interim Study Committee on Government at the Statehouse. "What's the secret?"

Police said Mack Long was armed when he was shot while trying to flee from officers, whom a grand jury later chose not to indict.

At one point, Debbie Long said police showed her the footage on a laptop but did not give her enough time to fully process what she viewed. Later, police released edited snippets to news outlets — a move she said only heightened her suspicion. A spokesman for the Indianapolis police department could not say Wednesday if the videos were, in fact, edited.

Her request is one of many considerations lawmakers must take into account as they explore state restrictions on police body-camera footage that is publicly released. The bipartisan study committee, comprised of members of both chambers of the Legislature, is reviewing the issue before next year's legislative session and did not take action on Wednesday's testimony. They can make recommendations that fellow lawmakers can choose to act on or ignore.

The meeting came two weeks after Indianapolis police shot and killed a teenager who police said was armed when he drove in a stolen car toward officers. Officers involved in the shooting were not wearing body cameras at the time, leading some to call for police to increase their use.

Law enforcement and local government signaled concerns to the greater concept of police body cameras.

"Victims don't usually like to be videotaped," said Sgt. Brad Hoffeditz, an Indiana State Police lawyer. "Especially if they know that that's public record and might end up in the hands, unfortunately, of the media."

Police regularly interact with victims, informants and undercover officers. Investigations could be blown and the safety of those people could be compromised if they are included in camera footage available through a public records request. Police also encounter people in compromised positions in their private homes.

"I can tell you firsthand there are some things no family would want released," said Rep Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, a former Blackford County sheriff.

The cost of purchasing, equipping officers and later reviewing footage could also be astronomical, they said. Seattle Police preserve their body-camera footage, much of which is posted to YouTube.

But Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, says he wasn't buying the argument that it would cost too much. And he said it could ultimately exonerate officers who are wrongfully accused.

"We keep talking about storing data," Taylor said. "What we haven't talked about is the savings from people not filing false claims."
 

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