Activists passionately urged lawmakers to advance a bill mandating that police officers wear body cameras as a way to increase accountability Thursday.
But law enforcement agencies and some Republicans said it would be difficult to pay the high cost of such a mandate.
The Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice reviewed SB 18. It says that any law enforcement officer, from the Kansas Highway Patrol to small-town police departments, “who is primarily assigned to patrol duties shall be equipped with a body camera while performing such duties.”
Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, the bill’s sponsor, called body cameras “the wave of the future” and said the bill would protect both police and private residents.
The camera would be used to record motor vehicle stops and other interactions between residents and police. If an officer entered a residence for non-emergency services, the resident would have the option of stopping the recording.
Rep. Gail Finney, a Democrat who represents District 84 in central-northeast Wichita, said that for as long as she can remember there has been tension between police and residents of her neighborhood, who are predominantly people of color.
“People are scared. I’m a mother. I’m a grandmother,” Finney said. “I have grown sons. … I’m afraid that my babies could be just driving down the street. They could be pulled over and make one mistake and they could lose their life.”
Djuan Wash, an activist with Wichita-based Sunflower Community Action, said body cameras would have prevented the ambiguity surrounding the death of John Paul Quintero.
Quintero was fatally shot Jan. 3 after police responded to a 911 call that he was armed with a knife and under the influence of alcohol. He died later at a hospital. Police did not recover a weapon.
Wash asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they have ever lied. People lie, he said, and police officers are people.
Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, took issue with a part of the bill that he said places a presumption of guilt on officers. That portion says that in cases where a law enforcement agency is unable to produce a video recording “there shall be a presumption that the recording would corroborate the version of the facts advanced by the defendant in a criminal action or the party opposing the law enforcement officer.”
Increased transparency resulting from body cameras would help strengthen relations between police and public, Finney said. She suggested civil forfeitures or fines from DUI arrests could be used to help pay for the costs.
Costs of the measure
But cost is a major barrier for the bill.
Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, noted that it would require personnel to watch the hours of tape collected by officers and that would take a lot of manpower.
The bill would require law enforcement agencies to retain video and audio for three years in cases where force was used or an arrest was made.
The city of Wichita announced plans last month to use grant money and money seized from drug arrests to buy about 450 body cameras by the end of 2015.
It submitted testimony opposing the bill, saying it “does not provide a funding source or timeline for implementation. Local governments will find it impossible to find the budget resources to cover the unfunded mandates in the legislation.”
Major Dawn Layman of the Lenexa Police Department, which implemented a body camera program in 2009, said local agencies should be allowed to determine whether and how to set up similar programs.
Layman, who oversees technology for the department and wore a body camera to the hearing, laid out the costs the bill’s various mandates could have for departments.
“This body camera here cost $900. Times 100 officers that’s $90,000 just for the cameras. Now we have to store it. We’ve just purchased a 100 terrabyte server: $200,000,” she said.
“And then if you follow some of the things in the bill. Somebody has to review all that video,” she said. “Say you have 10 officers on a shift … times three shifts, seven days a week … to review all that video before you destroy it you have to have 10.5 full-time positions to review that. Ridiculous.”
The Rev. Ben Scott, president of the Topeka chapter of the NAACP, replied to money concerns that “the cost of putting up a tape for three years is far less than the cost of a life that’s out on the street. As you look at these kinds of issues, try to put yourselves in the shoes of some of us.”
“Because I’m black, I might look like a suspect,” he said. “I could become one of those persons who could get shot.”
The hearing ran out of time before opponents could testify. It will resume Monday.
‘Big Brother’ or transparency?
The bill needs to be tweaked to allow local departments to implement the policies according to their means, but without body cameras the public must rely on hearsay in cases of alleged police wrongdoing, said Walt Chappell, a former member of the Kansas Board of Education who serves on an advisory board on racial profiling for the Wichita Police Department.
“We have ‘he said-she said.’ And that doesn’t cut it,” he said.
Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, the committee’s chair, remarked that given Chappell’s views on education – he is a fierce advocate for local control of schools – Smith was surprised that he would support a “Big Brother” approach rather than allowing local communities to set their own policies.
Chappell responded that it was critical to ensure transparency across the state.
“And as citizens we aren’t protected,” he said. “I think we need to provide that guarantee.”