Linn County Metro

Cedar Rapids police will disclose body cameras, let some people opt out of recordings

When to release body camera footage 'a huge debate in the profession'

A police body camera. (file photo)
A police body camera. (file photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Police Department’s new policy on the use of body cameras requires officers in most cases to inform people they are being recorded and allows people to ask police to turn off the cameras in private locations, such as a house.

These provisions are applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which seeks to protect privacy and other citizens’ rights.

“The (Cedar Rapids) officers both inform the person and give them the option to not record,” said Daniel Zeno, policy counsel for the ACLU of Iowa. “We think that’s a good option.”

The CRPD will use a $23,000 Byrne Justice Assistance Grant to buy 28 body cameras officers will start using by the end of the year. The department is among Iowa law enforcement agencies drafting policies on how to use the technology.

The Cedar Rapids policy is the only one in the Corridor telling police to inform people they are being recorded “whenever possible.” The agency will also give people an opportunity to opt out.

Policies for Iowa City, Coralville and the University of Iowa say police aren’t required to tell people they’re on camera, but must acknowledge the recording if asked.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office requires officers to record unless “requested by a victim or witness inside a private dwelling and enforcement or emergency response activity is not underway.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Marion’s and Hiawatha’s policies don’t mention whether the public has a right to know they are being recorded.

Body cameras often are promoted as a way to improve police transparency, but some Iowa law enforcement agencies have refused to release body camera footage — even in closed investigations.

The Iowa Public Information Board is deciding whether to file charges against the State Department of Public Safety and Burlington Police Department for declining to make public most of a Jan. 6, 2015, body camera video showing a fatal police shooting of a Burlington mom.

CRPD Chief Wayne Jerman said his department will err on the side of releasing body camera video if requested by the public.

“Unless there’s a glaring reason it should not be public, I will provide it,” Jerman said. “Even if it presents an officer in a negative light, it’s about transparency.”

The ACLU would like the Iowa Legislature to define which types of body camera footage — such as video from a domestic assault call in a private home — should remain confidential, while requiring other footage be open to the public.

Right now, because body cameras aren’t mentioned in Iowa’s Open Records law, they default to being open, Zeno said. But not every agency sees it that way.

The Coralville Police Department policy, which went into effect in 2014, says “releasing recordings for non law enforcement purposes is strictly prohibited.”

Jerman said he doesn’t think the law needs to be changed.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s a huge debate in the profession,” he said. “I believe if you have a good policy, it’s not necessary.”

But the Zeno said consistency across the state is important. “Without the Legislature fixing the open records piece, they (citizens) will be subject to the whims of different police departments.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.