NCSL Presents National Overview to Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force

A representative from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) briefed the task force on body camera legislation passed across the nation since May 2020.

Amanda Widgery, Senior Policy Specialist at NCSL, provided the task force an overview on police body camera legislation that has recently been passed in states across the U.S. Additionally, she shared insight into what role states play in assisting departments with storage; establishing security measures to protect data and enable access; and setting state-level policies for body camera use, transparency, and reporting.

According to Widgery, since May of this year, 18 states and the District of Columbia have introduced 43 bills related to police technology. A total of five states (Colorado, Connecticut, New York, New Mexico, and Vermont) have passed new laws specific to body cameras.

Questions from the task force focused on state-level funding and oversight. Widgery shared that initially South Carolina was the only state that required local police departments to equip officers with body cameras. However, that requirement is tied to state funding. The local departments are only required to equip officers with body cameras if they receive state funding to do so. In regards to recently passed laws, New York and Vermont require and fund either partially or fully body cameras for state police but do not have requirements for local departments. The newly passed laws in Colorado, Connecticut, and New Mexico require state and local officers to be equipped with body cameras but in some of those cases the state had existing grant programs to help locals fund the programs and in others enactment of the laws are delayed a few years which would presumably allow time to work through funding and implementation issues.

In the vast majority of states policies governing implementation, procurement, access to footage, and compliance are handled at the local level. State-level oversight is typically in the form of general guidance or in the requirement for locals to develop their own specific policies. For instance, Widgery’s presentation noted that no state has a role in assisting local departments with storage. Some state laws, such as California’s, list specific considerations local departments must make when establishing policies related to security measures to protect data and enable access. Others like Washington and Utah require that locals establish their own written policies for data security, access, and transparency.

The Law Enforcement Body Camera Task Force was formed by HB 739 (2020). They are charged with studying and making recommendations on the economical storage of audio and video recordings made by law enforcement body-worn cameras. The task force must report its findings and recommendations
to the General Assembly by December 1, 2020. MACo is represented on the tasks force by Howard County Police Chief Lisa Meyers.

A video of the meeting may be found on YouTube.