6 months later: Reviewing Indiana’s body camera law

FILE (WISH Photo)
FILE (WISH Photo)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — It’s been six months since the state’s body camera law went into effect that provided law enforcement with guidelines on access, privacy and redaction requirements. Local police say it’s too soon to tell if the law needs to be fixed this legislative session, but they did talk about how it’s going so far.

From the beginning, one of the biggest concerns for law enforcement is the administrative load the release of body cam footage has on police agencies.

“We haven’t been inundated with requests for video. The times that we have, those are labor intensive,” West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski said.

That’s why lawmakers allowed departments to charge up to $150 for the release of footage.

“We’ll have multiple officers on scene at the same call for service and you might have two, three, four body cameras going at the same time from different angles and a lot of that is moving,” Dombkowski said.

How long does it take to redact a video?

An experienced editor is able to blur a face in just a few minutes, but what if you add video movement? Depending on the length of the video and the number of people involved, it could take days to edit.

“Our camera isn’t isolated to one person viewing and talking with another person certainly in a public venue, there’s people going by, there’s juveniles to consider,” said Dombkowski.

While that $150 might sound hefty to some, Dombkowski says it doesn’t even come close to covering the cost of service.

“That’s a pretty small amount and it’s so seldom applied that it is not a money maker at all, at least it hasn’t been for us,” he said.

Dombkowski says in the 2½ years they’ve had body cameras, there have been fewer than 10 requests for footage. Although it’s a lot of work, he doesn’t mind if it means body cameras continue in the police force.

“We are a better police department for having body cameras on our officers,” he said. “I know that I can point to cases made for the prosecutor’s office that have been made off body camera video.”

Dombowski says they also help internally.

“We’re more accountable and more transparent than we ever have been to the public that we serve,” he said.

Dombkowski says it will probably take a full calendar year of research before lawmakers will consider tweaking the body camera law.

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