Body Cameras Are Everywhere, But Recordings Remain Locked Up Tight

from the thin-blue-line-more-resembles-a-moat dept

All over the nation, police departments are deploying body cameras. But there's no guarantee the public will have any access to the footage. As Kimberly Kindy and Julie Tate of the Washington Post report, the ultimate goals of greater accountability and transparency are routinely being thwarted by law enforcement agencies.

While individual police departments are adopting rules on the local level, police chiefs and unions are lobbying state officials to enshrine favorable policies into law. In 36 states and the District this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create statewide rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency.

Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted, The Post found. Eight of those expanded the use of body cameras. However, 10 set up legal roadblocks to public access in states such as Florida, South Carolina and Texas. And most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.
Footage is routinely being withheld by these agencies, even when state laws indicate the recordings should be treated as public records. Guidelines governing the recording of incidents are frequently being ignored. When an officer ends a life, recordings of these events are almost nonexistent.
Nationwide, police have shot and killed 760 people since January, according to a Washington Post database tracking every fatal shooting. Of those, The Post has found 49 incidents captured by body camera, or about 6 percent.
In the few cases where footage has been released to the public, it has often been heavily-edited before being handed over. Other footage is simply withheld in full. There's still one group that has unlimited access to body cam footage, even while friends and family of their shooting victims don't.
[V]irtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted their officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators.
If a cop kills someone, the only person guaranteed to see the unedited footage (if any exists) is that cop. Everyone else is locked out by police-friendly legislation and/or easily-abusable public records exemptions.

And again, these efforts mounted by law enforcement agencies to shield their personnel from accountability are routinely portrayed as beneficial to the general public.
“If you have a kid who drank too much on his 21st birthday and the police are called, do you really want video of that kid, sick and throwing up, to be on YouTube for the rest of his life?” said Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and chief of the University of Central Florida’s police force.
I guarantee you that if an agency thought dumping this video into the public domain would somehow be beneficial, this footage would be released and posted to YouTube for the rest of this person's life. There would be no discussion of "privacy," and the agency would be sure to remind everyone that public incidents in public places carry no expectation of privacy.

Law enforcement officers have very little respect for the people on the other side of the blue line. This is why the Fourth Amendment is treated as subservient to law enforcement's needs and wants. This is why they make sure a victim's full rap sheet makes its way to journalists within minutes of a police-involved shooting. This is why they treat minors as adults just so they can apply harsher punishments for "sexting." This is why they'll publish lists of every person's name found in the Contacts list of a suspected prostitute's phone. This is why they invite news crews to SWAT raids.

But now that the use of body cameras increases the risk that one of their own could be embarrassed for the rest of their life by these recordings, these officials have suddenly developed a concern for the privacy of citizens. The only thing transparent here is how self-serving these disingenuous statements are.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: body cameras, privacy, recordings, transparency

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 7:00am

    Grass Root protests outside their doors may be the only thing that can make a difference .

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.