Walker — Several months after outfitting patrol officers with wearable cameras, the Walker City Council will set down policies governing their use.
On Monday evening, the council introduced an ordinance outlining a body camera policy, and next month it is planning to bring the matter to a vote.
The policy, based on a model written by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, demands that officers record all contact with civilians, with a few exceptions. People may bar officers from recording in their homes unless the police visit to make an arrest or perform a search.
The recordings must be kept for at least three years, but may be kept longer if they are being used in an active criminal case or for training.
Walker police have been using the guidelines since the cameras were introduced in May, Chief Marliam Lee said.
The policy introduced Monday does not address whether the recordings are public record, saying only that all access to the footage must be authorized by the chief executive officer or his designee, and that “all access is to be audited to ensure that only authorized users are accessing the data for legitimate and authorized purposes.”
A white paper authored by the IACP and introduced at Monday’s meeting goes a step further.
“Accessing, copying, or releasing files for non-criminal justice purposes should be strictly prohibited,” it states.
Walker officials said they would be more transparent.
“All that the city does is public record,” Mayor Rick Ramsey said.
He said the police may have to make some allowances out of privacy concerns, such as not releasing a portion of a recording that shows the face of an innocent bystander, but the city would have to provide a legal reason before denying a records request.
City attorney Michael Cupit said the city will need to determine how to respond to records requests before the policy goes up for adoption next month. He remarked that body camera footage might be similar to 911 tapes, which, as Lee explained, generally become public record once a police investigation has concluded.
Lee said his officers have been pleased with their cameras and that they see them as protection against spurious complaints about their behavior.
Still relatively new, officers haven’t had a chance to use their camera footage in criminal prosecution yet, said Capt. John Sharp, a department spokesman. Nor was he aware of any recordings being used in a complaint against an officer.
The department is still getting used to its new gear. Sharp said patrol officers have noticed their battery life is only about six hours, yet they work 10-hour shifts. Sharp said the department is trying to get officers to charge the devices through their cars or onboard computers.
But he said the department is emphasizing to officers that they must remember to put them back on when they respond to a call or interact with the public. Officers also turn the devices off when they aren’t working with civilians.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.