Kansas lawmakers to reopen debate over police body cameras
Topeka Kansas legislators are reopening their debate over requiring body cameras for police, and a key Republican says he's determined to resolve issues that kept lawmakers from enacting such a policy in the year following a white officer's shooting of a black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo.
But local officials and law enforcement groups remained concerned Tuesday about the potential costs and setting rules for granting access to the recordings. They also argued that decisions about body cameras should be left to local departments, based on community priorities.
Identical proposals to require officers on patrol to use body cameras were introduced in the House and Senate, but neither cleared committee. The Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight plans to study the issue this summer and fall because its chairman, Republican Rep. John Rubin of Shawnee, believes body cameras protect the public while also shielding officers from unwarranted allegations of misconduct.
"It's an accountability tool," added Djuan Wash, an organizer with Sunflower Community Action, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports a body-camera requirement. "It keeps everyone accountable."
Lawmakers in nearly every state this year proposed measures in response to the Aug. 9, 2014, fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown's death triggered large protests and repeated clashes between police and protesters, and 16 other states enacted measures dealing with body cameras — though the policies varied widely.
Wichita, the state's largest city, decided in June to spend $2.2 million over four years on body cameras and records storage, with all patrol officers to have cameras by the end of the year.
Ed Klumpp, a former Topeka police chief who lobbies for chiefs, county sheriffs and peace officers associations, said local departments see the value of cameras and already are trying to determine how to pay for them and manage the resulting recordings. He questioned the need for a state mandate, given such interest.
"In three years, almost every officer is going to be wearing them anyway," Klumpp said.
Rubin said he has no interest in imposing a state mandate without identifying a way to pay for the equipment and records storage, so that local governments aren't burdened. But Republican Sen. Greg Smith of Overland Park said even if a source of funds is identified, there's no guarantee that the money will continue.
"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered," Smith said. "Do we really need to step in?
Smith also is concerned about the release of recordings compromising investigations or violating the privacy of individuals pictured in them. Rubin said it's a significant issue, but he's working on a proposal to address those concerns while providing some access.
Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat and advocate for a body-camera law, sees such issues as "red herrings" and said requiring their use is just "something we're going to have to do," adding that both police and the public will benefit.
"We can no longer rely on citizens with cellphones to provide audio and video of interactions with law enforcement," Haley said.