WALKER — Videos from the Police Department’s body cameras will be treated like any other public record, Mayor Rick Ramsey said Monday, after the City Council adopted policies governing the cameras’ use.
Under the new regulations, which are based on a model by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Walker’s officers must record all contact with civilians, with few exceptions, and the city must keep the recordings for at least three years.
The city’s drafted rules do not specifically address whether the recordings are public record. The procedures say only that 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.”
Ramsey said the city will follow the same procedures in releasing its body-cam footage as it follows with other public records.
“If it’s an ongoing investigation, then obviously that information can’t be released, just like a lot of police records can’t,” Ramsey said. “And anything that we do release on public records, we usually have it viewed by our city counsel prior to doing, just to be sure that we aren’t in conflict with state law.”
Scott Sternberg, general counsel for the Louisiana Press Association, told city officials Monday night that the state’s public records laws contain no exception that would allow public agencies to withhold the videos.
“We are taking the position that these videos will be subject to Louisiana public records laws until the Legislature says otherwise,” Sternberg said.
With more law enforcement agencies equipping their officers with the cameras, the Legislature this year created the Louisiana Law Enforcement Body Camera Implementation Task Force to recommend general guidelines for the proper storage, retention and release of body-cam audio and video data.
The commission is supposed to deliver its final report to the governor, Legislature and chief justice of the state Supreme Court at least 30 days before the 2016 regular session.
“Our position is that it’s more like a 911 tape, which generally is a public record,” Sternberg said of the videos, adding that he hopes to work with the city attorney to resolve any issues that might arise.
Ramsey said city officials plan to be “as open as we possibly can be. We’re not in this to hide that information from you.”
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