Should police control access to body cam videos?
Body cameras are becoming increasingly popular for law enforcement agencies to document — on video — any actions that could be considered unlawful or unethical in policing.
It’s an accountability tool that many are viewing as valuable in light of recent shootings and excessive force complaints involving police officers, but typically, all the footage that’s captured on body cameras belongs to the law enforcement agency in question.
As NPR points out recently, it’s a practice that’s now being questioned by social justice advocates.
Should police control their own body camera videos?
Social justice advocates like Alex Vitale, director of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, tell NPR that police should not control their own body camera videos for the following reasons:
- There’s a perception that law enforcement is using body cameras as a tool to help serve the needs of police, not the general public.
- If body cameras are, in fact, a tool for accountability with law enforcement agencies, then Vitale argues it would make sense for an independent agency or board to regulate and oversee the body camera footage.
He pointed out a recent case in Fort Worth, Texas, where a mother and her daughter were facing resisting arrest charges, but body camera video showed that it was the white officer who was using excessive force and violating departmental policy.
The video in question was never released to the public or the family’s lawyer, but it was later leaked to the lawyer, and he then sent it to the media.
The charges against his clients were dropped, and the officer was disciplined for his actions.
But had the body camera footage never been leaked, justice might have never been served.
Do departments purposely hide bad police videos?
Barry Friedman, who heads NYU Law’s Policing Project, says departments don’t generally strive to hide bad videos and only release good ones, but because there are no consistent rules on how videos are released, “it makes people distrustful.”
Here are some other key points from the article:
- The videos are mostly used to aid law enforcement, as officers can review the tapes and make more arrests and provide evidence to prosecutors.
- A third-party control system for police body camera videos has never been tried.
- Body camera regulations are still being written in most communities. It’s an evolving issue.
If you or someone you love is in trouble, and there is body camera footage involved, you need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. Call Jacqui Ford’s office for help.