“Breonna’s Law,” the bill named for a Black woman killed in bed in her home by Louisville police officers serving a no-knock warrant, contains a provision requiring officers to use body cameras when serving warrants or performing their official duties.

But state lawmakers will have to provide funding, so departments that don’t have body cameras can purchase them and store body camera footage, Owensboro officials said Wednesday.

The bill, which has been filed for consideration in next year’s General Assembly, bans “no-knock” warrants and requires officers to use body cameras when serving warrants, when responding to calls for service and when performing duties initiated by the officer, such as traffic stops.

The bill says an officer who doesn’t turn on a body camera or tampers with the camera footage, could be subjected to a rebuttable presumption that statements the officer attempts to admit into evidence be ruled inadmissible. If an officer does not turn on a body camera or tampers with the footage, that would create a presumption the footage would have reflected officer misconduct, the bill says.

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Attica Scott, a Louisville Democrat, was not available for comment Wednesday.

Nate Pagan, Owensboro city manager, said Wednesday that the city of Hopkinsville had police body cameras when he was city manager there, and he saw body cameras having benefits to both the public and law enforcement. He said, in his experience, an officer with a body camera accused of misconduct is often exonerated by the camera footage.

The General Assembly will have to provide funding for departments, such as the Owensboro Police Department, that don’t have body cameras, Pagan said.

“I would like to assume the state would not pass another unfunded mandate,” Pagan said.

In 2018, legislators approved Senate Bill 88, which prohibits the General Assembly from passing mandates that require local government expenditures without the state providing the funding, or without the local government having final approval over whether it accepts the mandate.

In 2019, however, lawmakers passed a school safety bill that requires school districts to add more guidance counselors and school resource officers. For example, the bill required school districts to have one counselor for every 250 students by July 1, 2021. The bill provided no funding and only said schools had to comply “as funds and qualified personnel become available.”

Breonna’s Law is much less ambiguous and states officers serving warrants “shall be equipped with operating body-worn cameras” and shall activate his or her camera five minutes before serving the warrant, and keep it running until five minutes after the action has ended.

Major Barry Smith, chief deputy for the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department, said he had “no idea” how the department would pay for body cameras if legislators approved Breonna’s Law with the body camera provision.

“We were talking, roughly for our agency, it would be a $100,000 investment,” Smith said.

In July, before Breonna’s Law was prefiled for consideration next year, Smith said in addition to the purchase cost, there would be an expense of $1,000 per camera annually for software and to store camera footage.

In order to cover the expense, “I guess we would have to not replace a deputy,” something the department is “adamantly opposed to,” Smith said.

“There’s going to have to be some kind of funding mechanism put in place” if the bill becomes law, Smith said.

“We are not opposed to body cameras at all,” Smith said. “We just have to find the funding to purchase them” and cover the additional costs, he said.

Shawn Butler, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police, said agencies without cameras would need financial assistance.

“I think the issue is how we fund this. That’s a big issue,” Butler said. “If they are going to mandate this, they also need to come up with some funding to assist us with implementing that.

“I have not heard anything as far as funding,” Butler said. “If it becomes mandatory, we would be pushing heavily” for state funding, and would also pursue federal funds, he said.

Currently, “there are some agencies that could flat-out not afford it,” he said. “You don’t want (an agency) breaking the law because they could not afford it.”

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

(1) comment

Stanley Lightner

This should be a normal expense for any and all police departments and there does not need to be an expectation that the state would incur the expense. The specter of not hiring another officer is nothing more than a straw man designed to instill fear into the general populous (read white reactionaries). The police do not like to have their actions exposed especially when they have been acting outside the law.

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