BOISE — A bill making its way to the governor’s desk could bring the Twin Falls Sheriff’s Office one step closer to outfitting its deputies with body cameras.
The legislation, HB 499, would shorten the amount of time that counties are required to keep law enforcement media recordings, such as audio and video from body cameras worn by officers. Doing so would significantly bring down the high storage costs that counties face under the current guidelines, supporters of the bill say.
The goal is to encourage the use of body cameras by making them more affordable for counties, said Sen. Todd Lakey, a Republican from Nampa, who carried the bill on the Senate floor Monday. HB 499 passed the Senate with unanimous support after a 65-3 vote in the House.
The Twin Falls Sheriff’s Office doesn’t use body cameras, largely because of the lack of statewide guidelines and unpredictability of storage costs, according to Sheriff Tom Carter. But Carter would like to see that change.
“I’m all about body cams,” Carter said. “The only reason that we’re not using them yet is we’re waiting for guidance from the legislature.”
There isn’t anything in Idaho code that specifically addresses how long counties are required to keep footage from body cameras. By default, these recordings must be kept at least two years, along with all other temporary county records. HB 499 would change that by adding specific retention guidelines for law enforcement media recordings. Recordings with evidentiary value — meaning they contain information that’s relevant to a use of force incident, an arrest, a citation, criminal defense, a filed complaint or a valid records request — would have to be saved for a minimum of 200 days.
Body camera footage without evidentiary value would be kept for a minimum of 60 days, and security camera footage without evidentiary value would be saved for at least 14.
“The challenge that counties are facing currently comes with the videos, or the portions of these videos, that are the birds chirping and nothing happening, essentially,” Lakey said.
It’s estimated that the current cost to store all body camera recordings is $1,000 per officer per year.
Carter said he would like to move forward with talks of outfitting Twin Falls deputies with cameras if HB 499 is signed by the governor.
“I believe in transparency. Body cams do that,” Carter said. “I think body cams probably help the police as much as they help the civilian population.”
The decision of whether to introduce body cameras isn’t entirely up to the sheriff, though; the prosecutor’s office and county commissioners also have a say in the matter.
Some Magic Valley sheriff’s offices already use body cameras. In Blaine County, where deputies have worn cameras for the past several years, Sheriff Steve Harkins says he doesn’t anticipate HB 499 having an immediate effect.
The county has already upgraded its storage capacity to accommodate the “large amount of storage needed” under the current requirements, Harkins said.
The bill “will not impact us at this time,” Harkins said, “but could down the road.”