Wyoming Legislators Could Make All Police Camera Videos Private by Default

Under the proposed law, the public, media, law enforcement or other entities could ask a court to have the footage released if it serves public interest.

by Matt Murphy, Wyoming Tribune-Eagle / October 7, 2016

(TNS) — State lawmakers are looking at establishing rules for police body camera footage, with the intention of protecting law enforcement, privacy rights and the public interest.

Last week, members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Task Force on Digital Information Privacy decided to move forward with a proposal to address the process for how police body camera video is released.

Currently, state law does not address how those recordings should be handled, and as a result, some agencies are reluctant to use body cameras.

The proposal from the task force would make all body camera footage private by default.

However, the public, media, law enforcement or other entities could ask a court to have the footage released if there is a public interest in doing so.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and a co-chairman of the task force, said the legislation began as a result of conversations nationally about body cameras.

He said he thinks having legislation to protect both law enforcement officers and the public interest will encourage more agencies to use body cameras.

“If law enforcement is comfortable with privacy protections, they’ll adopt the technology,” Rothfuss said. “I think it’s critical we have this. I think it protects our law enforcement, and I think it protects the public.”

The concern on the law enforcement side is both privacy and how body camera footage should be treated as a public record, said Byron Oedekoven, the director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.

For example, an officer could be having an everyday conversation with a resident who is not involved, nor a suspect in a crime, but a body camera would record that conversation.

“Is that something that should be blatantly public?” Oedekoven said.

Further, because state law doesn’t address the type of record under which body camera footage falls, it is unknown how long and to what cost such records would need to be kept.

Oedekoven said the proposal discussed by the task force could lead to an answer for that question too.

At the same time, agencies are not against using body cameras. There are just concerns that still exist.

“We see (body cameras) as more of an asset for the officer,” Oedekoven said.

While the proposal would not leave access to body camera video wide open, Wyoming Press Association Director Jim Angell said he thinks the public’s interest would be protected.

Angell compared the proposal to how 9-1-1 calls are treated and said Wyoming courts have historically shown good judgment when something is in the interest of the public.

“I have implicit faith in our judges,” he said.

Rothfuss agreed.

“Our court is sensitive to the public interest relative to transparency,” he said.

The proposal will next go to the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee, where it will be discussed at the next meeting.

“I’m hopeful general support for it continues,” Rothfuss said.

©2016 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle (Cheyenne, Wyo.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.