Kentucky bill would shield most police body camera videos from public view
House Bill 416 is set to be heard at a meeting of the House local government committee on Wednesday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A bill in the Kentucky legislature would give law enforcement agencies broad discretion to withhold footage from officers’ body-worn cameras, although it wouldn’t exempt video of fatal police shootings.
House Bill 416 was to be heard at a meeting of the House local government committee on Wednesday, but it was pulled from the agenda. It is sponsored by Reps. Robert Benvenuti III, R-Lexington, and John Sims Jr., D- Flemingsburg.
Benvenuti said the bill is meant to "strike a common-sense balance" between privacy and the public's right to know as more police departments deploy the cameras.The measure does not require the technology.
"What we need to do is create a structure so that everybody understands what the rules are going in, including the public understanding of that," he said.
The measure would not prohibit the release, under the state’s open records law, of body-camera footage showing police encounters that result in death or “substantial bodily injury.”
Defense attorneys and family members of people in the videos also could request officer-worn footage.
But in other cases, police departments, sheriff’s offices and other law enforcement agencies could choose not to turn over footage of encounters that show the inside of a private home or a “non-public portion of a business or other entity where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Among other exemptions, video also could be withheld if it shows the inside of hospitals, jails, prisons or would reveal information about colleges and universities already protected by federal law.
Body-camera footage showing the death or serious injury of an officer could be kept private, as could any videos of a dead body.
The bill is much-needed effort to shield law enforcement agencies from frivolous requests for footage, such as encounters involving celebrities, said Col. Wayne Turner, chief of the Bellevue Police Department and legislative chair of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police.
He said HB 416 doesn’t affect the ability of police to preserve officers’ activities on camera, but it does protect the privacy of bystanders recorded by an officer.
“We wanted to carve out some exemptions,” he said.
Kate Miller, the ACLU of Kentucky's program director, said her organization favors changing the bill to include use-of-force incidents among the types of encounters with police that could be made public under an open records request.
In addition, she said she would like to see the bill allow footage of any “bodily injury” to be disclosed, not just “substantial” injuries, which the measure does not define.
“If we had those changes to the bill I think we would have fewer concerns,” she said.
Overall, she said the ACLU supports parts of the measure that offer privacy protections to witnesses and crime victims. The bill also prohibits the release of footage showing information about a domestic violence program or emergency shelter.
“In that regard we’re trying to strike a balance where we demonstrate a commitment to privacy but also to transparency and accountability," she said.
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