Faced with a new statute that mandates Nevada Highway Patrol officers begin wearing body cameras, agency officials and the Attorney General’s Office are working on regulations for not only NHP but statewide.
To do so, they have to wade through what Greg Zunino of the Attorney General’s Office said is a long list of issues ranging from when the cameras must be on, when they should be off, who has access to the video records and how long must they be kept.
The cameras were required by this year’s Nevada Legislature. Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 111, which Capt. Natasha Koch, manager of the NHP program, said also included $1.2 million to pay for them.
“They present different challenges than dash-mounted cameras,” Zunino said. “But probably every law enforcement agency in the state will, at some point in the future, consider deploying body-worn cameras.”
He said the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department “is really on the cutting edge of this in Nevada.”
Metro has had a pilot program in place with 200 body cameras on the street for 18 months now and Metro Sgt. Peter Ferranti said they had collected a huge amount of data on the cameras, their use and the policies that need to be in place.
Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong said he too is keeping a close eye on Metro because he believes body cameras for law enforcement “are inevitable.”
Ferranti said solid policies are critical.
“You can’t just jump in, buy cameras and put them on the street,” he said.
Ferranti said so far, those cameras have exonerated claims of officer wrong-doing in 58 cases. But he said in one case, the video resulted in an officer being terminated a week ago “because what happened was so egregious.”
“We’re getting better plea bargains, better convictions,” Ferranti said. “It enhances officer reports and testimony.”
He said Metro is preparing to put another 535 cameras on its officers and planning to buy an additional 500 this budget cycle.
Zunino said one thorny issue is when those videos are public record and when they are confidential and, if confidential for investigative or other reasons, how long until they become public. He said Nevada’s existing public records law weighs heavily toward making them public so if an agency wants a video kept confidential, it has the burden of showing why.
He said some states like Illinois have basically mandated the cameras be on all the time and what they record be open to the public. Texas, he said, gives the agency more flexibility in making those decisions.
Zunino said he believes Nevada’s agencies need to be involved in developing those kinds of policies and need some flexibility. Zunino said there are many times when, even if the video is released, private personal information must be deleted and faces, for example a non-involved juvenile in the background, blurred.
He also pointed out the situation may be much different at NHP than for local police agencies “because most of what they do is out in the open.” That wouldn’t be the case for a lot of criminal investigations by local police agencies investigating criminal activity where he said there may be strong reasons not to release video of an interaction between an officer and a suspect or witness.
Furlong said his department has “a few” cameras that are worn in specific situations. He said he’s concerned about the eventual cost to the city when it has to buy a system.
He said his department’s situation like Metro’s is different than the situation at NHP, where lawmakers mandated body cameras and set rules for them including that they are on in all encounters with the public.
Zunino said because Metro started its program on its own, it isn’t restricted by the NHP mandates in SB111. Nor, he said, are other law enforcement agencies in the state.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt said the goal will be to form a working group who will come up with a model set of rules and policies for body cameras. He asked for volunteers among the agency leaders in the room to help with that effort.