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New Bill Would Define What Police Body Camera Footage Is Public Record

Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) discusses new proposal to outline public records standards for police body cameras.

The emergence of police body cameras has caused several communities to solve their own questions about what is and is not public record. Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther joined with Republican state Rep. Niraj Antani to introduce a bill that would provide some definitions.

HB 585 creates several exemptions to public records laws for body cameras, such as if the video shows inside a private home, private business, or the victim of a sex crime.

Antani says any adverse police action, such as a police-involved shooting, automatically makes that video a public record.

The bill also requires a local records commission that will maintain body camera records for a minimum of one year, unless the law enforcement agency is required to keep them for longer.

Several Ohio cities, including Akron and Columbus, have made strides in equipping their police with body cameras. But Antani says the devices are too new to have solid footing as far as public records are concerned.

“Right now it’s pretty much up to interpretation and it would and it will make it through the courts and then the courts would get to decide what it is,” Antani says. “I think that it’s not up to the courts, it’s up to the legislature.”

Columbus Police have encountered questions as well over when to activate their body cameras, which is not defined by Antani's bill. Officers are instructed to turn on cameras during any interaction with the public, after which the cameras retroactively capture soundless footage from 60 seconds before being activated.

Activists and family members have criticized Columbus Police for that lag, especially after the July killing of Kareem Jonesthat was caught on body camera but lacked audio.

Antani's bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.