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Compromise Could Free Cop Cam Videos in Kansas More Quickly

Lenexa Police Major Dawn Layman wearing a body camera while visiting the Statehouse in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)
Lenexa Police Major Dawn Layman wearing a body camera while visiting the Statehouse in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Kansas lawmakers have forged a compromise to allow more access to video from police body cameras and vehicles.

Legislation debated in the Kansas House Wednesday followed recent shootings by police in the state.

The bill says people in the videos or their families must be given access to the recordings within 20 days.

In the past, it could take months for families to see a video and find out what happened in a fatal police shooting.

Republican Rep. Blaine Finch said this plan would give families a definite timeline.

“I’m hoping that they can get some comfort and closure and get the information that they want or need in these cases,” Finch said.

Heather Joyce is the sister-in-law of Dominique White, who was shot by police in Topeka last year. She told lawmakers during a committee hearing this month that it took almost three months before her family could see a video of his shooting.

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

The Kansas House legislation doesn’t go as far as a previous proposal when it comes to releasing videos. The original plan would have given families access to recordings within 24 hours. Law enforcement officials objected to that, saying the short timeframe would interfere with investigations.

The original bill would have also created timelines for releasing videos to the general public, but that section was stricken from the legislation. Instead, the Kansas Judicial Council will study that issue.

Democratic Rep. John Alcala had pushed the original version of the bill as a way to improve relations between communities and law enforcement. He said the shooting of Dominique White had put a strain on Topeka.

“I felt that put the city of Topeka almost at the edge of civil unrest,” Alcala said.

While the bill scales back the scope of the changes, Alcala still supports the legislation.

“It’s a way of starting to build that trust back up,” Alcala said.

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.

Stephen Koranda is KPR's Statehouse reporter.