SB 160: Body Camera Transparency
This bill failed in the Senate 12-13.
Video evidence in legal proceedings can be extremely important when determining the actual events of a case, beyond what’s provided in verbal testimony—which can be untruthful. That is part of the reason why Utah passed a law requiring law enforcement officers who use body cameras to activate them “prior to any law enforcement encounter, or as soon as reasonably possible.” This way, when disputes do arise, the courts can better determine what happened, and, in certain circumstances, who is at fault.
In 2017, police-worn body camera footage of an incident at the University of Utah hospital went viral. A Salt Lake City detective tried to compel Nurse Wubbels to hand over a blood sample of one of her patients, even though the officer didn’t have a warrant. Nurse Wubbels refused and was forcefully and wrongfully arrested for protecting the rights of her patient.
Included in the disturbing footage is a side conversation between two officers discussing Nurse Wubbels’ detainment and how to proceed. Before the officers delved into this conversation, they consulted whether to keep cameras on or off—luckily they ended up keeping them on. This conversation was a crucial part of the evidence in helping the public learn about Nurse Wubbles’ treatment by the detective and the overall situation.
Without the footage, the actual events may not have been clear enough to prove the facts of the case and inform the public about the justification and context behind the detective’s decision.
Currently, officers are allowed to turn off their body cameras when consulting with other officers. In events like the Nurse Wubbels incident, these conversations help provide a complete picture of what actually happened, ensuring justice can be served. This is why Senator Dan McCay is sponsoring Senate Bill 160.
SB 160 removes the provision in the law allowing officers to deactivate cameras while consulting with other officers or their supervisor. This means they would have to keep their camera turned on during the entirety of a critical incident. This is a safety precaution for officers and non-officers alike, to ensure the truth is preserved and justice served.
Transparency is a cornerstone of accountability, and for the government, it often needs to be lawfully required.
Note: As amended, the requirement to record a conversation between officers only applies to incidents in which the officer has used force prior to the conversation.