EVANSVILLE, IN (WFIE) - Under a proposed bill in Indiana, law enforcement agencies could decide if and when they release body camera footage to the public.
With widely publicized issues across the country, more and more departments are making body cameras mandatory for officers.
Some say House Bill 1019 would put the public at the mercy of law enforcement. Others say to protect the integrity of ongoing investigations, there needs to be a system for when footage is released and when it isn't.
State Representative Wendy McNamara was in the committee that discussed this body cam bill Tuesday. She says the media needs to be more responsible with body camera footage and telling both sides of the story. She didn't offer specific examples.
"My point was that the media needs to be more responsible in the way that it portrays the police. The media plays a role in molding the perception on what our officers do and a lot of that has been eroded through sensationalism," said Wendy McNamara.
Rep. McNamara went on to say, " Officers put their lives on the line everyday, and often only one side of the story is ever told."
Since putting body cameras on all Evansville police officers, complaints have been nearly cut in half.
Sgt. Jason Cullum says there were a combined 43 (informal and formal) complaints made against EPD in 2013.
In 2014, there were only 23 complaints.
In February 2014, the department issued body cameras to all officers.
Today, Sgt. Cullum was more than happy to discuss their body camera policies in the wake of this potentially controversial bill.
According to Sgt. Cullum, the department follows guidelines set in place by the Department of Justice.
Here's an excerpt from the guidelines provided to use by the Evansville Police Department:
" Agencies should have clear and consistent protocols for releasing recorded data externally to the public
and the news media (a.k.a. Public Disclosure Policies). Each agency's police must be in compliance with the state's public
disclosure laws (often known as Freedom of Information Acts). In certain cases, an agency may want to
proactively release body-worn camera footage. For examples, some agencies have released footage to share what the officer's video camera
showed regarding controversial incidents."
Sgt. Cullum says the department follows the protocol of not releasing video, during pending criminal investigations.
That's unless police are actively looking for a suspect.
Sgt. Cullum says they will release videos when outcry from the public is spreading rumors and lies, that the video can clear up.
" Our department got body cameras to increase the level of transparency and accountability. That goes both ways. We can use the videos to dispel false claims against officers and investigate conduct of officers on the streets."
EPD has released body camera footage in the past, from a number of cases including a foot pursuit involving an armed man, a shootout involving an officer at a gas station, and a SWAT team raid in 2013.
Today, some comments at the committee hearing on House Bill 1019, focused on the media needing to hold more responsibility when it comes to accessing body cam footage.
Those comments made by representative Wendy McNamara.
She went on to explain that those comments were not made towards any Tri-state media outlet, but a general statement about all media outlets.
Back in November, 14 NEWS was contacted by a concerned Evansville woman, after an EPD officer shot her dog.
We requested a copy of the video from EPD, and they released it to us.
According to Sgt. Cullum, that video vindicated the officer's actions and helped calm the public outcry from the incident.
"When we we're contacted by 14 NEWS, they gave us a list of claims the dog owner made," explains Sgt. Cullum. " We were able to play the video and dispel all of the claims."