Pros and cons come with new police video bill

New legislation spelling out when Ohio police body camera and cruiser dash camera footage may or may not be released to the public should bring mixed reaction from the public.

We do not deny there is a critical need for Ohio law to uniformly clarify the question of when police body camera and dashboard video is a public record. Until now, these questions were being settled by each jurisdiction creating its own rules that then were becoming open for interpretation by county prosecutors.

House Bill 425 was passed last week by Ohio legislators and now awaits outgoing Gov. John Kasich’s signature.

Parts of the bill make perfect sense; however, we believe other parts of the bill inappropriately ban release of some videos recorded by police cameras that we believe always should be public record.

Under the bill, video depicting victims of a sex crime, for instance, has been deemed not a public record. No legitimate or upstanding media organization generally publishes names or images depicting such victims, so it is logical that the legislature determined it will further protect these victims from less scrupulous people obtaining and publicizing such video. We have no objection to that stipulation.

However, the bill goes on to outline dozens of other exemptions — some questionable — that ban release of police video.

For instance, the bill broadly bans release of all video shot inside a home or a business. That creates many limitations on video that, in some cases, should immediately be made public.

Reasonable exemptions already are spelled out in the bill’s language limiting release of images of children in some cases, death and injury that isn’t caused by a law enforcement officer, nude bodies, personal medical information, confidential informants and more.

So why, then, is it necessary to broadly ban the release of video taken inside businesses and homes? Businesses, particularly, are generally open to the public and should not unequivocally be banned from release across the board.

Further, any video depicting the use of deadly force ALWAYS should be considered public record and should be made available for immediate release.

We are pleased to see that the legislation’s language does spell out, while the death of a person or a deceased person’s body is exempt from release, the video can be released if the death was caused by a peace officer.

The same rule applies in cases of “grievous bodily harm,” according to the law’s language.

That is important, and we hope such release is immediate, and never delayed until the end of any investigations and / or subsequent court action, which often can drag on for years.

We argue strenuously that immediate release of such records to the media is imperative — not to sensationalize the matter, but rather to inform the public and ensure the transparency that is deserved in cases involving police officers.

We believe the growing use of body cameras is a valuable tool in holding police officers more accountable. Let’s not limit this newfound transparency by increasing the way that these records should be shielded from public disclosure by adding unnecessary exemptions.