Release or not to release, the debate over body camera video

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Lawmakers are debating whether law enforcement agencies should be required to release body camera video of officer-involved shootings.

The House and Senate heard testimony on Tuesday from people on both sides of the debate.

“What we do not have in the state of Kansas is a standardization of any type of timeline so that we can foster that transparency,” said Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg).

The body cam bills before the House and Senate judiciary committees would create a standard for law enforcement agencies to release body cam footage in officer involved shootings, or use of deadly or near-deadly force. The Senate bill would allow video to be released to family 24 hours after the incident and then to the media after 30 days, while the House bill would make the video available to anyone within 24 hours.

Some in law enforcement say that's too soon.

“That first 24 hours is trying to locate all witnesses. Get statements. Those types of things. So just the releasing of the video within 24 hours is problematic,” said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter.

The family of Dominique White, who was shot and killed by two Topeka police officers September 28th, say the bill is needed.

“We were denied all access to body cam footage, and the district Attorney Michael Kagay had told us it was state law that prevented our family from viewing it,” sister-in-law Heather Joyce said.

“If the police officers weren’t in the wrong, why not just show us?” she asked.

Some say not releasing body cam video creates distrust of law enforcement and they say current law is applied inconsistently. For example, Wichita police released some video of an officer involved shooting after a swatting incident the next day.

"There was a significant amount of unrest in Topeka and as Sen. Baumgardner indicated the difference was striking with how the Wichita Police in releasing the video,” said Max Kautsch, Lawyer for the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

But law enforcement says that discretion is needed.

“If we have an incident that’s going to be, such as what took place in Topeka, I know what my decisions going to be. I’m releasing that video in the best interest of the public,” explained Sheriff Easter.

Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay attended the hearing, but did not testify. There’s no word on when either committee will work the bill.