New law limits release of police body cam footage

Published 5:49 pm Friday, July 13, 2018

Seeing police body cam footage has become routine over the past several years. Whether it’s in the news or on the latest episode of “Cops,” the general public has become accustomed to seeing these videos. A new state law that takes effect on Saturday will limit access to some of this footage.

House Bill 373 will exempt some police body camera footage from being released publicly. Video footage will be exempt if it contains video of the interior of private homes, medical facilities, women’s shelters, jails, shows a dead body, evidence of sexual assault, nude bodies or children.

According to the bill, it does not include footage from dashboard mounted cameras used in the course of “clandestine investigations.”

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Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said he expected something like this to be on the horizon.

“I think a lot of us have been waiting for legislature to do something about that. The big concern for any agency looking into this is, of course, the cost of (body cameras) to start with and then the storage issues…and the privacy issues from releasing body cam footage,” said Sharpe. “When you have a body cam policy, if it’s worth anything, then you’re turning it on any time you’re interacting with the public.

“When we’re going into these people’s homes and they’re having family problems and things like that, personally speaking I don’t think that should be public record —unless there is some law enforcement-related issue or complaint against an officer.”

Sharpe said something like House Bill 373 is what many agencies have been waiting for before deciding whether or not to purchase body cameras.

“I have not read the final version of the law yet. I want to look at that and see where we are going from there,” said Sharpe. “But, I do think you will see some more agencies that try to get into it now that we’ve got some kind of guideline on what we have to keep and what we have to release.”

Bell County Sheriff Mitch Williams agrees with Sharpe that the important aspect of the new law is to protect the privacy of individuals involved.

“Some stuff you don’t want people to see,” said Williams. “I can see the point of not letting somebody see the layout of the inside of somebody’s home. I have absolutely no problem with the release of any video as far as the actions of the law enforcement.”

Neither the Middlesboro Police Department or the Bell County Sheriff’s Office currently have body cameras.