Public Safety

Police body camera study bill sent to Iowa Senate panel

But subcommittee strikes requirement to make videos public after cases are closed

Adam Wesley/The Gazette

A body camera worn by Coralville police officer Patrick McCoy is shown in June in Coralville. At the beginning of 2015, all Coralville police officers began wearing body cameras while on patrol.
Adam Wesley/The Gazette A body camera worn by Coralville police officer Patrick McCoy is shown in June in Coralville. At the beginning of 2015, all Coralville police officers began wearing body cameras while on patrol.
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An Iowa Senate subcommittee on Tuesday approved a bill that would launch a study of the use, storage, public inspection and confidentiality of body camera video.

Body cameras are increasingly worn by Iowa law enforcement officers to record interactions with the public. The devices are often promoted as improving accountability for police, but in several cases law enforcement agencies have refused to release the videos.

The family of a Burlington woman accidentally shot fatally by a police officer Jan. 6, 2015, filed a complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board after the Burlington Police Department and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation refused to release most investigative materials, including the bulk of body camera video.

“We’re still in this battle for information,” Steele’s mother, Gina Colbert, told The Gazette last month.

Senate Study Bill 3308 originally also included changes to Iowa’s open records law that would have required law enforcement agencies to make public investigative records once a case is closed if it doesn’t endanger a person’s life.

That part of the bill was struck before passage Tuesday.

Law enforcement groups, including the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, expressed concerns Tuesday about requiring more openness of records, said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, who chairs the subcommittee that passed the amended bill in Des Moines.

“Most groups were concerned about victims and bringing out to the public information about crimes,” he said.

Studying how body cameras should be used has wide interest in the Legislature, Dvorsky said.

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Senate File 2174, scheduled to be discussed today by a judiciary subcommittee, would require law enforcement agencies using body cameras to retain the footage for at least six months and longer if the recording shows an arrest, use of force or is requested by a citizen involved in the recording, among other reasons.

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