An Indiana Senate committee is considering an overhaul of a bill that would give Indiana police departments broad authority to withhold body camera video amid opposition from open-government advocates.
Changes discussed Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee include requiring law enforcement agencies to justify that video must be kept private because it would either avoid harming someone or influence a court trial. That would be a reversal of the burden of proof from the original bill, which required the person requesting the video to prove the release would not cause harm.
Committee Chairman Brent Steele of Bedford said the bill won't advance to the full Senate without such changes, on which the committee could vote next week.
Bill author Rep. Kevin Mahan, a Hartford City Republican and former Blackford County Sheriff, said the measure is essential to protecting the privacy of people in gruesome or sensitive scenes.
"Folks I've been on the front lines and I've seen things that even as a police officer I didn't want to see," Mahan said at the hearing. "There are some things you don't need to see and quite frankly, there are things the media doesn't need to see."
Not everyone agrees that law enforcement should decide what should and shouldn't be private.
Debbie Long said it should be her right to request the release of police video of her husband, Mack Long, who was shot and killed by police officers in April. She has requested to have the video go public multiple times but the department has refused, citing a pending investigation.
"The law is still putting the video in the hands of someone else to make a decision as to whether or not I should be able to see that last few minutes of my husband's life on this earth," she said, noting that she viewed the video once under police supervision.
"There's nothing wrong with letting the public in," said Dave Crooks, chairman of the board of the Indiana Broadcasters Association. "Sometimes the video will prove what actually happened and we want to make sure the public and the media has access to those videos."
The bill mandates police departments to retain video information for at least 180 days, but that storage comes at a high cost.
West Lafayette police Chief Jason Dombowski's department has 40 body cameras and said server storage for footage carries a price tag of $90 per camera per day. The Indiana State Police estimates an annual cost between $750,000 and $800,000 to store information for its 600 cameras.
The bill would also require agencies to obscure video that contained dead bodies or people under the age of 18.
Some opponents, including the executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, welcomed the proposed bill amendments and said they were a step in the right direction.