Area law enforcement establishing fees for body cam footage

PUBLISHED: Dec. 17, 2017

BY: Shannon Hall, Courier & Press reporter

Law enforcement agencies say body cameras help protect the officers and the community, but local law enforcement agencies want to charge $150 to provide the footage or are against the public seeing it in general.

The Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office will “probably” implement a $150 fee for copies of body camera footage, according to the Vanderburgh County sheriff.

“That’s to download and put it on the disc and everything,” Vanderburgh Sheriff Dave Wedding said.

Before a new body camera law took effect this year, the department only charged the cost of a CD.

“I’ve been in law enforcement for 36 years,” Wedding said. “I think the body cameras are a fantastic tool, but the better tool is having deputy sheriffs doing the right thing out there when they’re interacting with the public … and treating the public correctly.”

The Evansville Police Department began charging $150 in August because of the new body camera law but has released a few recordings it wanted made public without charge.

The sheriff’s office will join the Evansville Police Department with the fee implementation.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office has about 50 body cameras. The department upgraded their first model, which cost $50, to ones that cost almost $1,000, Sheriff Dave Wedding said.

Despite not having many body camera footage requests, Wedding said the $150 fee will help with costs to store and edit the footage.

In Warrick County, Sheriff Brett Kruse said he doesn’t think they’ll charge the full $150 that the law allows. But that doesn’t mean they’re handing out body camera footage either.

The Warrick County Sheriff Office doesn’t release items that are considered evidence prior to the disposition of a court case, Kruse said.

“As I understand the law, the release of this video to the public could be prejudicial toward the defendant in finding a fair and impartial jury,” Kruse said. According to the Indiana Access to Public Records Act, body camera footage does not count as investigatory content.

The Newburgh Police Department began using body cameras before it became a common practice with police departments, Newburgh Police Chief Eric Mitchell said.

Right now, the Newburgh Police Department doesn’t have a policy in place that will charge members of the public for body camera footage, but he wants to start creating a policy beginning in 2017.

Newburgh officers already keep their footage for an extended amount of time so the new law won’t affect them as much. He said being a smaller department helps. But there’s a chance that the department will suspend using the body cameras for a short period while the department gets the proper editing equipment needed. Law enforcement has to edit footage if it shows blood, children, nudity or someone on screen who had died.

There’s no policy that requires officers to turn on the body cameras, but Mitchell said most turn them on automatically.

“There’s only been a handful of times when I didn’t have time to activate the camera just due to the circumstances of what happened then and there,” Mitchell said. “Everybody pretty much adheres to that.”

Newburgh uses Tazer body cameras, which allows officers to view — not edit — the body camera footage on the officers’ cell phones.

“I can tell you from a standpoint from writing out a probable cause affidavit — it’s awesome because it keeps you on a chronological order,” Mitchell said. “You’re getting more details than you had remembered.”

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