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Utah lawmakers debate cost, privacy concerns accompanying body cameras for all cops

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Posted at 8:29 PM, Aug 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-23 22:29:46-04

SALT LAKE CITY – State lawmakers are meeting to discuss policies for the use of police body cameras and how to protect the rights of average citizens when officers use them.

They’re also addressing the costs to equip every department, and whether or not the public should have access to every police encounter captured on video.

“If you have a situation where a police officer is responding to an active shooter or a fight going on, I don’t want them so worried about activating their camera that, when they show up, they’re distracted or they fail to be able to get out and immediately just handle whatever situation is threatening the public,” said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-District 12.

The videos in the story above are examples of situations caught by police cameras. While lawmakers say they believe body cameras are good for transparency, they believe certain regulations need to be followed in obtaining the video.

“It is very, very important that we decide how and when that evidence should be released and when it should be available to the public,” Thatcher said. “But it’s also important that we also not have our officers so concerned and caught up and focused on procedure, that they lose sight of public safety.”

Bountiful City’s police chief says he is concerned certain situations could cause the public to judge an officer in an unfair light.

“People want to believe that this officer would never say anything wrong, would be completely appropriate all the time, yet, probably very few people in society would live up to that standard,” said Tom Ross, Chief of Police for the Bountiful Police Department. “And what I’m saying as a police chief, is we have policies and guidelines that are very well, you know, prepared and accepted, and as long as officers work in that range, we have to allow for individuality.”

Another concern is the cost to outfit every department. Currently, not every police officer in the state wears a body camera.

“I mean, it’s not like this is free and you can just gather information,” said Senator and Assistant Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-District 1. “It’s very costly--the technology--but also keeping the information. Storage is very costly.”

Lawmakers and law enforcement officials are also addressing privacy concerns, deciding what is and what is not appropriate to share with the public.

Thatcher said: “Is it fair and appropriate to put someone’s last moments of life on the television without regard to their families, without regard to how that might affect their loved ones?”

The Utah Highway Patrol estimates it costs roughly $3 million to outfit 450 troopers, and there are currently 9,000 police officers working in Utah.