Kansas bills on body cameras get support, raise questions
Topeka An effort to require Kansas law enforcement officers to be equipped with body cameras has gained some bipartisan support in the Legislature, but questions about costs at a time when the state is facing a budget crisis threaten to bring that momentum to a halt.
Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat, and Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, have pushed measures that would require agencies to outfit their officers with the cameras. The proposals follow the August shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which sparked sometimes-violent protests, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Wichita has experienced a number of officer-involved shootings, Finney said, including an incident earlier this month in which police shot and killed a man who they said acted belligerently and reached into his waistband during an encounter with officers.
"I think we potentially could be a Ferguson if we don't address this," Finney said.
Her bill likely will be considered by the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, whose chairman, Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican, said he supports the concept of body cameras.
The cameras, which can cost hundreds of dollars each, can protect citizens from police overreach but also can help clear officers wrongly accused of brutality or acting inappropriately, Rubin said.
But efforts to require the cameras statewide face practical challenges, Rubin said, including his reluctance to require police to buy cameras without providing funding.
"But as with so much of what we do up here, it's the details that matter, and I am also quite sensitive, actually concerned, about the state providing another unfunded mandate for local law enforcement," Rubin said.
Finney's bill calls on law enforcement agencies to seek out grants from federal and private sources to pay for the cameras.
Some Kansas police departments already are moving toward use of the cameras.
The Wichita Police Department plans to greatly increase the number of cameras it uses after an August community meeting following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Topeka police are expected to receive up to 30 new body cameras during the next five years after Security Benefit Corp. donated $75,000 toward the purchases in July.
Riley County police and Kansas State University campus police also said this fall they were implementing body cameras.