south dakota capitol

South Dakota Lawmakers Decline to Pass Legislation Regulating Police Body Cameras

The state is only one of a few not to have a statewide law regulating how police body camera footage is maintained and released to the public.

Lawmakers in South Dakota defeated legislation last week that would have regulated the use of police body cameras and how footage is released to the public.

The original bill filed by state Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat, regulated when the cameras could be turned on or off, how footage should be maintained and if it should be considered a public record, according to The Argus Leader. The newspaper published an investigation last year into the 44 police shootings that have taken place in South Dakota since 2001 that prompted the drafting of the legislation.

When the legislation went through the committee process, legislators decided to replace the text of the bill with language that would have created a legislative committee to study police body camera usage before next year’s session, The Argus Leader reported.

But, on Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee defeated the new bill because senators did not want the bill to prioritize the study of police body cameras over other topics, such as drug epidemics ravaging the state. Body cameras can still be considered as an “interim study topic” instead of being part of an established committee.

Law enforcement groups were against the bill, arguing that police departments were already using best practices for their cameras and that any broad policy could negatively affect smaller departments. The South Dakota Newspaper Association was the only organization supporting the bill, according to the Argus Leader.

As the Argus Leader points out, South Dakota is one of only a few states, including Colorado and New Mexico, without a state law regulating how footage is released and when cameras should be on and off. Each individual agency determines whether or not to release body cam footage in specific cases.

Karl Kegeris, the police chief in Rapid City, told the newspaper that the legislature should focus on other issues, noting that local oversight measures are in place for his department.

“We are not going to run rogue with our body camera program because if we do it once, the entire value of that program is diminished," Jegeris said. "We have a lot of problems without solutions. This appears to be a solution for something that is not a problem."

For more information on public disclosure policies for police departments across the U.S., the Reporters Committee For Freedom of the Press maintains a database on body camera footage policies for each state.

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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