Divide emerges in committee studying police body cameras

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An urban vs. rural split emerged among law enforcement groups Tuesday as a state legislative committee explored potential guidelines governing the use of police body cameras by Indiana's police agencies.

Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer said he fears mandatory cameras could trample on privacy protections and destroy the trust built up between his deputies and residents in the rural northeastern Indiana county.

"I had genuine fear of how that's going to affect trust in my community," said Troyer, who has banned his deputies from carrying their own body cameras. "Just the presence of those cameras creates fear in our people, in our citizens."

Meanwhile, West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski was an avowed supporter of their use. Dombkowski said the number of excessive force complaints against his department plummeted from 29 to seven since officers started using the cameras more than a year ago.

"Everybody behaves different when they know they are being recorded," Dombkowski said.

The use of body cameras has been debated across the country following several high-profile cases in which people have died at the hands of police, leading to long-simmering tensions with law enforcement to boil over, especially in urban minority communities.

In August, Indianapolis police were not wearing body cameras when they shot and killed a teenager who they say was armed and drove in a stolen car toward officers. That led some to call for police to increase their use.

Indianapolis police and public safety officials said Tuesday they supported the use of body cameras so long as there are clear guidelines regulating their use. The city, however, may have to downsize plans to equip patrol officers with cameras after failing to win federal grants to buy some of the wearable devices.

Key issues lawmakers are reviewing include when police should have their cameras recording, what footage needs to be retained for the long term, and how quickly agencies should be required to release footage to the public.

Not all rural agencies in the state are against using the cameras. Last year, the Gibson County Sheriff department equipped deputies with body cameras. But Troyer's anti-body camera stance bolstered skepticism raised before the Interim Study Committee on Government by the Indiana Sheriff's Association, which argues the cameras would be costly, time-consuming to use and burdensome for smaller departments. Cameras could also record footage that violates people's constitutional privacy rights, the agency said.

Troyer said deputy integrity, "looking people in the eye" and "handshakes" are what's needed to gain people's trust — not body cameras.

But lawmakers on the committee from urban areas said police body cameras could actually increase the trust that people they represent have in the police.

"Why are we even here talking about this?" said Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis. "We've seen how they've exonerated police officers and how they've really shed light on the truth."

The bipartisan study committee, comprised of members of both chambers of the Legislature, is reviewing the matter before next year's legislative session and did not take action on Tuesday's testimony. They can make recommendations that fellow lawmakers can choose to act on or ignore.

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