South Bend residents give input on current body camera policy

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The South Bend Board of Public Safety hosted its second community meeting Thursday, asking for the public's input on the current body camera policy.

"We are asking for public's input, to strengthen the policies as they are currently written,” city spokesperson Mark Bode said.

The policy for both bodycams and dashcams reads, in part: “The recorder shall be activated in any of the following situations:

1. All enforcement and investigative contracts, including stops.
2. Traffic stops including, but not limited to, traffic violations.
3. Self-initiated activity in which an officer would or should normally notify Communication Center."

Officers have discretion in turning off body cameras in certain situations, per the South Bend Police Department duty manual, which is guided by Indiana statute.

Some examples may include working with juveniles and domestic violence situations.

While it is true footage can be blurred, those with the police department said officers do not have the authority to manipulate recordings.

"In every situation, they have to make sure they keep their selves safe, as well as trying to keep the community safe,” resident Cecilia Edwards Brown said.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 36 President Harvey Mills said if cameras were left on at all times, the storage costs for the footage would be staggering — hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Nonetheless, participants at the meeting discussed scenarios of bodycam use to determine if an officer violated a policy and should have had his or her body cameras off or on.

"Our group felt there were a lot of gray areas in the policy," Edwards Brown said.

Residents said they would like to see the current policy tweaked in some ways, such as exploring penalties and violations to the policy, more accountability of the policy and what would be the rule for undercover officers.

The city said the body camera policy was last updated in February 2018.

Notes from all the meetings will be put in a document, and that document will be presented to the South Bend Board of Public Safety.