Being sold under the auspices of protecting the privacy of people caught on video, Kansas lawmakers are attempting to restrict public access to police body-cam footage.
Introduced last week by the House Judiciary Committee, the bill seeks to keep the pubic in the dark by only allowing video to be released to individuals in the footage, their lawyers – and if they are minors, their parents.
A version of the bill passed in the Senate unanimously last year but a debate in the House, which has now heard testimony, has not yet been scheduled.
Under current state law, most footage is considered public record at the disposal of anyone who asks for it. If enacted, the proposed bill would only make body-cam video available to the pubic through court order, or if otherwise approved by a judge.
Supporters of the bill, which consist primarily of law enforcement lobbyists who say the measure doesn’t go far enough, assert that the primary concern is for peoples privacy rights – something we all know cops seek to uphold.
“Our concern has been the confidentiality of information and of people’s lives,” police lobbyist Ed Klumpp said. “People should not have to share that information in open records requests with nosy neighbors.”
The measure makes Kansas one of 20 states where legislation has been introduced to restrict or block access to recorded police encounters – a trend that has developed amidst wider adoption of body-cameras, which are exposing misconduct and abuses by cops at new rates.
Micah Kubic, from the ACLU of Kansas, testified against the bill and said that though privacy is a legitimate concern, the family of people who die during a police incident should be able to view the footage without a court order.
“Cameras are primarily intended to facilitate accountability, not just by the chain of command within law enforcement agencies but also by the public,” he testified. “Without access to recordings, the public cannot fill this role.”