Body camera bill delayed due to broad language

Body camera bill delayed due to broad language

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A bill that would exempt body camera video from Louisiana public records law has been delayed in Senate committee.

The bill's author, Senator Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, offered to defer the bill Tuesday and said he plans to bring it back to committee sometime next week.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said the bill, as written right now, is too broad. Johns said he never would want to cover up a crime.

Under SB 398, video not subject to a pending criminal proceeding could only be released by a court order. The person requesting the video would also be responsible for covering the costs of "production associated with court ordered disclosure of 11 noncriminal video or audio recordings, including but not limited to expert 12 retention and overtime."

"We think body cameras are going to be a great tool for the public, but it's also going to be a great tool for the law enforcement community. So, we're just trying to find some balance between the two in terms of privacy," Johns said.

Johns said there is an urgency to establish policies on privacy because many agencies are ready to launch their body camera programs. That includes police agencies in the cities of Alexandria and Lake Charles.

The chiefs of both departments testified in committee Tuesday in support of the measure, saying it is about protecting the privacy of individuals, especially the victims of crimes and domestic violence as well as juveniles.

"With in-car cameras, we're dealing with people on the street. There's no expectation of privacy. But now we're going to be entering homes," said Lake Charles Police Chief Donald Dixon.

"What these officers are exposed to are the intimated details of your life and my life," said Alexandria Police Chief Loren Lampert.

Media representatives objected to the bill, telling lawmakers that there are already provisions included in public records law that would allow police agencies to restrict video on the basis of privacy concerns.

They went on to say that the new bill would create unnecessary barriers for journalists in their efforts to do reporting.

"This requires for a media entity or citizen to sue first," said Scott Sternberg with the Louisiana Press Association.

"I believe having the material open for public inspection allows protection of the public," said Charles Haldeman, the news director of KPLC-TV in Lake Charles.

Some senators also expressed concern about the bill, fearing it could hinder efforts to expose police misconduct, which is the reason many people called for body cameras in the first place.

"If you stop a guy, that's what I'm concerned about," Sen. Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport, told the two police chiefs testifying.

"Body cameras inherently are for transparency. Now we have body cameras and we're trying to not release the video from the body cameras. That's an innate dichotomy, I can't get my arms around it," Peterson said.

The two officers also testified that the bill would also help with managing the quantity of video. They testified that there is simply not enough space to store all of the video not related to specific criminal cases.

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