Some Kansas lawmakers say there should be changes to laws concerning when police departments must release body camera footage, but they acknowledge it will be difficult to balance the concerns of several stakeholders with conflicting interests.
The issue arose after two recent officer-involved shootings, one in Wichita and the other in Topeka. The Wichita department waited only hours to release some footage when an officer fatally shot a man while responding to a hoax call. Some residents have called for more footage to be released.
In contrast, the Topeka police department waited 11 weeks before releasing any footage of a deadly shooting in that city.
Wichita police spokesman Charley Davidson said chief Gordon Ramsay thinks there should be "statewide consistency on video release that should be legislated and not left up to police chiefs or other non-elected officials to decide."
But organizations that represent police officers think current state law adequately balances justice for all parties with public interest, said Ed Klumpp, who represents the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriffs Association and the Kansas Peace Officers Association. He said he supports more training on applying the current laws.
In Kansas, body camera videos and other recordings are criminal investigations records and public agencies have wide discretion on whether to release those records. A court can order records disclosed if it finds they are in the public interest or don't endanger someone. Some people directly connected to the shootings have the right to view body camera recordings.
Rep. John Alcala, a Democrat from Topeka, said he expects lawmakers to discuss regulation of body camera videos in this year's legislative session, which began Monday. Other lawmakers said the issue needed to be addressed but expressed concern that new regulations should not deter the use of body cameras.
"As the use of body cameras increase, we are going to see more instances of where there is a potential for conflict between those who want to control the release of the footage and those who want it released," said Rep. Fred Patton, a Topeka Republican. "Balancing the interests of criminal investigations, involved parties and their families, innocent third parties and the public will be a challenge."
Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, said the organization plans to support legislation during this session that addresses access to police camera footage. He said family members of someone killed by police should have immediate access to body camera video and it should be available to the public when an investigation is no longer active.