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Policy Body Cameras: A Conflict Between Individual Rights And Police Needs

Do the rights of citizens to access video from police body cameras trump the need for law enforcement to preserve an important piece of evidence in a criminal investigation?

The use of body cameras by Nebraska police officers is becoming more common. However, unlike nineteen states and the District of Columbia, statewide rules governing the use of the technology are nonexistent. Proposed legislation would replace standards in the state that vary in both scope and detail.

LB 100, sponsored by Senator Health Mello of Omaha, would require Nebraska law enforcement agencies to adopt policies on the use of body cameras, specifically when to turn the cameras on. Footage would be stored for 90 days. The bill also requires detailed procedures and training programs.

A more controversial component of the legislation allows police to withhold video from the public record if the footage is part of an investigation.

Opposition to the bill centers on accountability issues. They want public access to all footage, fearing that law enforcement would classify any video as investigatory and indefinitely withhold the footage. Police would have the "final word."

Money is also a major sticking point. Deputy Chief Greg Gonzalez of the Omaha Police Department cites the millions of dollars storage of the footage would cost in spite of body cameras promoting good behavior.

On behalf of the Police Chiefs Association of Nebraska, Bruce Lang, Beatrice police chief, argued that the Nebraska legislature should not be making decisions that may need future adjustments. Body camera rules should be the responsibility of the Nebraska Crime Commission.

"What we know is that technology changes much faster than the Legislature changes laws."

Video footage of an arrest can be a powerful tool if accessed in a timely manner. A skilled criminal defense attorney can employ all resources in securing evidence necessary for a thorough investigation.

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