FF12: New bills would release certain body camera video sooner

TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) New bills discussed in both House and Senate committees would mean body camera video in certain situations would have to be released sooner.

The bills amend the current bill on body camera video and releasing records to highlight two specific instances - when officers use a gun or when officers use force that results in great bodily harm or death.

Opponents of the Senate bill were mainly law enforcement and county governments, according to the Senate committee chair Senator Rick Wilborn. He said the discussion in the Senate Judiciary Committee lasted at least an hour and a half Tuesday.

Among those opposed was Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, though he agreed the issue can be addressed.

"The current bill has some things that could be discussed with all the entities involved to come up with the best solutions," Easter said during the hearing.

Another opposed was Greg Smith who is now with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office.

"Body cameras can be mounted here or here," Smith said referencing his chest and next to his face. "They're not here," he said pointing to his eyes.

"They don't see things the same way that the officer does so if you're looking for this to be some kind of panacea to fix police community relations, this is not the bill," Smith said.

But those in favor, including the Kansas Association of Broadcasters and some lawmakers said it's about transparency.

"To me, the most important components of this particular bill before you, Senate Bill 360 is that it affords us in Kansas standardization so that where we live or whatever our income might be, we all would have equal access to vital information," Senator Molly Baumgardner said during the committee hearing.

That standardization would come in the form of time. The bills in both the Senate and House committees put timelines on when body camera video needs to be released.

For the Senate bill, it says if there is video of one of those serious incidents involving police, a person who is involved in the video should get the video within 24 hours of requesting it. That includes the parents of a minor involved in the video or attorneys involved. The same is true in the House bill.

The difference between the two bills comes with how quickly someone else could get the video. Right now, the law doesn't specify a time period. The Senate bill says anyone who requests the video would get it no more than 30 days after requesting it. The House bill says that time would be five days.

That timeline, Wilborn said, was cause for some concern.

Easter said, "You also have to remember the video is only one piece of fact gathering. I've worked numerous homicides, numerous officer involved shootings throughout my career. That first 24 hours is trying to locate all witnesses, get statements type of things and so just the releasing the video within 24 hours is problematic."

Both bills are only being discussed and are not close to becoming law at this point. Wilborn said after discussion Tuesday, it was decided to let both sides of the issue discuss the timing concern. He said lawmakers asked those on both sides to talk about their concerns with each other and come to an agreement to give to the committee.

But timing is limited.

Wilborn said based on legislative rules, bills have to be "worked" by end of the day Monday. He said that agreement from the opposing sides has to come before the committee before the end of the day Monday so the committee can decide to vote it out of committee to the floor.

If no agreement is reached, Wilborn said the bill is dead.

If an agreement is reached, the bill can continue.