Standards urged for police body camera use

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln police officer models one of the department's body cameras.

NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

LINCOLN — Police departments would need basic standards for using body cameras under a bill introduced Friday in the Legislature.

Legislative Bill 1000 calls for departments with body cameras to adopt policies requiring training and rules about how a camera is worn.

Omaha State Sen. Heath Mello, the bill's sponsor, said he thinks police and the community agree that body-worn cameras are positive. But he believes a basic policy framework for their use is needed, he said.

"Both for protection of the community and the protection of law enforcement," he said.

Police have called body-worn cameras a necessary technology, comparing them to an effort in the 1990s to equip police cruisers with dashboard cameras.

A few Nebraska police departments that use body cameras say they already have policies in place.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department, for example, has 31 body cameras and has a policy that guides officers on when and where to use them.

So does the Bellevue Police Department, which has 14 body-worn cameras. The Omaha Police Department, meanwhile, is getting 50 cameras this month and is drafting a policy.

Mello said his proposal offers minimal structure, giving departments flexibility to make their policies more comprehensive.

WISHES, BILLS

Several agencies want body cameras but can't afford them; 24 bills introduced Friday.Page 2B

More coverage of the Statehouse at Omaha.com/legislature

Among LB 1000's requirements:

Agencies would have to provide training to officers who use body-worn cameras or come into contact with the video or audio data.

The camera must be worn openly in a prominent place on an officer's body, uniform or clothing.

An officer would need to notify someone, if reasonably possible, that the person is being recorded.

Officers would need to alert their supervisor about any problems with a camera's recording capability.

As is the case with dash-camera video, departments would not have to hand over body camera recordings to the public, Mello said, due to an investigative exemption in the public records law.

Also under the bill, body camera recordings would need to be retained for at least six months.

If a recording became part of a court proceeding, it would need to be kept indefinitely.

Anyone who intentionally destroys a recording would face a misdemeanor charge.

The bill also would require departments to submit their policies to the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

John Francavilla, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Nebraska State Lodge, said some of the provisions, such as requirements for storing recordings, could get costly for some departments.

The overall proposal was created with the guidance of Nebraska's Fraternal Order of Police, plus feedback from departments that use the cameras and from stakeholders such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

Francavilla said it would be nice if the state could provide funding for departments but called the policy measure a good start.

"It's positive to have it, to know that the senator cares, and that he wants both the public and law enforcement protected by the use of the cameras."

ACLU Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad agreed, saying the measure balances the public safety benefits and privacy concerns.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9581, emily.nohr@owh.com

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