Proposed Body Camera Bill Sheds Light on Open Record and Privacy Issues

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The Iowa Public Information Board wants to see clearer legislation on public access to law enforcement body cameras. Right now, there is not a clear-cut answer on what police departments have to do with their body camera footage. The Iowa Public Information Board is proposing a bill to create a uniform law to increase how much and what kinds of body camera footage law enforcement agencies should release to the public.

The Iowa Public Information Board has been studying the issue of body camera legislation for over a year.

“Our legislation does not talk about when do you tape and when do you turn off the tape, but instead, you already have this recording, now what?” Iowa Public Information Board Executive Director Margaret Johnson, J.D. said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that it’s a public record, however, is it a confidential record?”

They want to create a piece of legislation that can give guidance to everybody, this is following a body camera recording issue that arose from footage taken by the Burlington Police Department where an officer accidentally shot and killed a woman. The footage wasn’t released for three years.

“When we got involved with that initially it wasn’t ‘we don’t want anyone to see this’ it was ‘we don’t know what to do,’” Johnson, J.D. said.

Privacy is a big piece of discussion when it comes to this bill.

“We talk to a lot of people in private settings whether it’s a hospital or their residence and sometimes we’re dealing with folks who are at their worst or maybe just had something horrible happen to them.” Des Moines Police Department’s Sgt. Paul Parizek said.

The Des Moines Police Department releases body camera footage just like any other document subject to open record law, but they may redact footage that interferes with privacy. Because of this, they think revisiting the open records law is necessary.

“That is something we need some clarification on, what do you redact? Often times we’ll release a video and there’s someone in the background who may have nothing to do with the incident,” Sgt. Parizek said. “The law was written so many years ago that it really doesn’t address the technology that’s available today.”

You can read the proposed bill for yourself here.

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