Body Worn Video Steering Group
Currently law enforcement agencies are facing a question which could spell both positive and negative results, depending on who answers. That question is the issue of body camera footage, and what to do with in regards to public access.
Just recently over 30 media, privacy, and civil rights banded together calling for fair body camera principles to be put in place. One example of an agency suffering a backlash from citizens and media when compared to these guidelines is the Los Angeles Police Department.
The LA Times Editorial Board released an article which said “…the proposed body camera policy put forth by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck… should be considered slowly and carefully.”
“Though the proposed rules include admirable detail about how and when officers must use the cameras, including outlining the few instances in which the devices can justifiably be switched off, and although it sets out certain privacy protections for victims, the document fails to explain the department’s provisions for public access.”
“That’s probably not an accident, given Beck’s earlier assertion that he doesn’t plan on releasing any video unless required to do so by a judge.”
“That’s unacceptable. One of the central purposes of the body camera program is to assure a worried public that interactions between officers and citizens are appropriate and by the book.”
One agency, Seattle PD (SPD), uses an algorithm created by a hacker to redact footage before putting it on YouTube – a controversial move meaning individuals could one day be recognised and suffer the consequences for a past mistake caught on camera for all to see. After all, the internet is forever.
Yet the SPD video descriptions say “over-redacted previews are useful for people who file lots of public records requests for videos. Instead of requesting lots of videos these requesters can preview videos and make smaller requests. This reduces the time it takes to manually review and redact requested videos.”
Clearly, this allows citizens to spend their own time combing through the records, when police resources can be used elsewhere. For example Tim Clemens who was responsible for such blanket requests was eventually hired by the SPD, working to develop a faster and more efficient method of redacting footage.
Some will argue that one should not have committed the crime or acted with poor behaviour and this result is deserved, others disagree.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier says to make video captured by police body cameras open to public review, saying redacting sensitive material would lead to “potentially staggering” costs and still not ensure the privacy of those seen on tape.
She also said that automated redaction software could ensure total anonymity only 90 percent of the time, which she called an unacceptable rate.
In Florida the debate centres on body cameras inadvertently capturing sensitive information when in a private residence or other area where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Flordia Senate Bill 0248 is designed to deal with body cameras as follows: Providing that a body camera recording is confidential and exempt from public records requirements under certain circumstances; providing exceptions; requiring a law enforcement agency to retain body camera recordings for at least a specified period; providing for retroactive application; providing for future legislative review and repeal of the exemption; providing a statement of public necessity.
Finally, the bill recognises further issues with body camera recording (condensed):
Video recorded by body cameras is significantly more likely to capture sensitive personal information… public disclosure of these recordings could have an undesirable chilling effect. People may be unwilling to cooperate fully with law enforcement officers if they know that a body camera recording can be made publicly available to anyone else… if their sensitive personal information or the circumstances that necessitate a law enforcement agency’s involvement are subject to public dissemination as a body camera recording.
People may also be less likely to call a law enforcement agency for services… body camera recordings could be used for criminal purposes if they were available upon request….These concerns regarding the impact of the public records requirements for body camera recordings not only… necessitate the exemption of the recordings from public records but also outweigh any public benefit that may be derived from their disclosure.
Clearly there is varied opinion on what to do with body camera footage. On the one hand some say it should be treated as any other evidence would, while some opponents say to make all video public. Judging by the attention this issue is garnering at the minute, calls will be made for open and honest debates between cops and citizens across America.