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Police Resist Effort to Make Access to Law Enforcement Video Easier

Heather Joyce (left) at the hearing on the bill regarding police videos. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Legislation pending in the Kansas Statehouse would require police to release videos of shootings by officers, stripping away wide discretion that law enforcement in the state now holds on when and what to make public.

Police, broadly speaking, oppose the bill. At a hearing on Tuesday, the measure’s supporters argued the public — and particularly families of those involved in police shootings — deserve easier access to police video.

Dominique White was shot by police after an altercation in Topeka last year. His sister-in-law, Heather Joyce, said they couldn’t get body camera video or solid information about what happened for weeks.

“Our family should have been grieving,” she said. “Instead we were still looking for answers, still trying to comprehend why.”

Joyce said relatives spent thousands of dollars trying to get access to information, and eventually a member of the family was allowed to watch the video.

“I don’t want another family to go through what we are going through,” Joyce said.

The bill would require police to release videos like that, sometimes within 24 hours to family members or others.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter opposes the bill and said legislators need to balance transparency with what’s practical. He noted a recent event involving multiple officers and a suicide.

“There’s no way you can get through all that in 24 hours, plus do what we’re supposed to do, which is investigate this thing,” Easter said.

Supporters of the bill also argued that releasing more police videos would increase public confidence in law enforcement.

Former Kansas Sen. Greg Smith, now with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, disagreed. He said cameras don’t show everything the officer sees and can paint an incomplete picture.

“If you’re looking for this to be some kind of panacea to fix police/community relations,” he said, “this is not the bill.”

Critics of the bill also raised concerns that releasing too much information too quickly can lead to legal tangles that make it harder to prosecute crimes.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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