Utah lawmakers look at passing statewide body camera rules

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — As more police agencies issue body cameras to their officers, Utah needs to set statewide standards about what should be filmed and who can see it, lawmakers and advocates said Tuesday.

Members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee didn't take any action on the issue Tuesday but heard from police and civil liberties advocates as they discussed potential pitfalls of the new technology.

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said about one-third of the 105 police departments represented by his group are using body cameras, and police see the need for clear guidelines on use of the devices

"Law enforcement is not being drug to the table kicking and screaming," Ross said.

Ross and other officers said privacy concerns are something that Utah lawmakers need to consider.

West Jordan Police Chief Doug Diamond said body cameras present different challenges from traditional, car-mounted dashboard cameras. Dashboard cameras record situations in public spaces such as roads and highways, but body cameras enter private homes, Diamond said.

Ken Wallentine with the Utah Chiefs of Police Association said lawmakers need to consider how the videos could be used as evidence in other cases. For example, Wallentine asked, if a landlord calls police about a tenant, and an officer's body camera records footage of unsafe housing conditions, can housing regulators use that video against the landlord in a separate case?

Col. Daniel Fuhr, the superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, said his agency has used the devices for about 2½ years, and video storage is an expensive challenge. He said Utah is working to create a $600,000 cloud-based storage system for footage collected by state police.

Fuhr said his agency's policy is to keep video from any criminal incident, such as a DUI arrest, for 10 years. Other video of incidents that don't make it to court will be kept for two or three years before being destroyed.

Marina Lowe with the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said that in order to protect citizens, lawmakers need to set some basic statewide guidelines about when cameras should be turned on, who has access to the video and what happens when officers fail to turn their cameras on.

The ACLU and Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in Utah, compared 13 Utah police agencies and found their policies varied about what video can be publically released and when it can be deleted.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said that while small towns with tight budgets may have trouble paying for policies that include data storage fees, he's concerned about allowing a hodgepodge of rules around Utah.

Saratoga Springs Republican Sen. Mark Madsen suggested lawmakers may want to consider creating an ombudsman whose job it is to mediate disputes over what video should be released or destroyed.

"This is going to be a constant flow of these recordings coming up under different situations," Madsen said.

Tuesday's meeting followed a similar discussion in May where lawmakers on a law enforcement committee discussed the need to consider passing statewide standards next year.

Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has said he'd like to see officers outfitted with body cameras and cameras in patrol vehicles to keep everyone involved in a police encounter honest.

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