Body cameras will soon be arriving department-wide for the ICPD

BY CORY PORTER | APRIL 14, 2015 5:00 AM

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After testing body cameras on a limited basis for nearly two years, the Iowa City police will receive enough cameras for the entire department soon, but there is still a lot up in the air regarding their use.

Police Chief Sam Hargadine said privacy of the individual versus access to public records is one of the biggest questions he and others have discussed recently.

The department would receive 80 cameras within two months, he said.

“That is the thousand dollar question,” Hargadine said. “We’ve actually met with a couple of groups. We’ve met with African-American groups, and we’ve met with the ACLU. We’re still in the policy-formation phase.”

He said there are some situations that have to be discussed before a solid policy is put forward.

“We’re looking at what constitutes an open record and where there are expectations of some privacy,” Hargadine said. “For example, in someone’s home, because there’s body cam video, there are some privacy issues there.”

Last week, members from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa met with the Iowa City police to discuss the basic concerns of using body cameras and any potential issues that could arise in the future.

“A lot of it was a conversation about the privacy component … and it’s one of those issues where law enforcement and the ACLU agree on a lot more than we disagree on, which is not necessarily always the case,” said Erica Johnson, an immigrants’ rights and racial-justice advocate for the Iowa ACLU.

Another topic of conversation was House File 452, a failed piece of legislation introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives by Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, which outlined policies for law enforcement using body cameras.

The bill covered areas such as when the cameras would be turned on, who would have access to these recordings, and how long recordings would be kept, specifically to answer questions raised by Iowa’s open-record laws, which mean body-camera footage is an open record.

“It’s not just the local police that have access to that,” Johnson said. “It could be anyone, and that could be problematic for a lot of reasons.”

Depending on the situation, she said, people who are subjected to recording should be able to access the footage and disclose it at their own discretion, but if it hasn’t been flagged for any reason, it shouldn’t automatically become available to the public.

In November 2014, the Iowa City City Council repealed a resolution allotting funds for the purchasing of body cameras for Iowa City law enforcement, after Hargadine found a cheaper, more advanced option.

“What’s cheaper out of the whole thing is you don’t have to have a second records-management system to run it,” Hargadine said. “It’s going through the same software that we used to manage the video from the dash cams.”

City Councilor Susan Mims, who voted to fund the body cameras, said she could see a challenge in creating policy concerning the use of body-camera recordings.

“I’m not sure how we’re going to balance that in terms of people’s privacy versus news media’s right to records,” she said .“I think this is really a new level of use of technology … I would say I have not seen anything that begins to rise to this level of potential conflicts between privacy and public right to know.”

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