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Police Body Camera Footage: Should It Be Public?

Linda Collins - July 1, 2020

CP - Police Body Camera Footage Should It Be Public

In what has been a tumultuous first half of 2020, there are many facets we could unpack as a “takeaway” from all we have experienced. But if you could point to one single “thing” that has disrupted our way of life and brought about real conversation and a pathway for change it would ultimately have to be cell phone cameras.

If I were to say the name Darnella Frazier, there is a good chance you have heard her name recently. However even if you haven’t heard her name recently you have likely seen the video this courageous 17 year old girl took of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officers.

As it should have this has sparked major civil rights debate in our country in regards to systemic racism within our legal system. In particular, the mistreatment of people of color by our law enforcement officers. Many departments across the country have started to mandate body cameras on all their officers in the field, though this is not federally regulated and mandated yet so it’s really hit or miss, though it is getting better. The idea is to improve accountability amongst our officers and reduce police violence and increase trust amongst those they are charged with protecting and serving.

So while the idea of more transparency and accountability sounds great, there are still issues. Body cam footage for instance isn’t readily available to the public. It’s still quite limited in accessibility. It is privately held by government departments until it’s release is deemed ready. Which even to the lay person sounds fishy, as it would be easy to manipulate the footage in this time to prevent the truth from seeing the light of day.

So while the idea of accountability and trust was the goal, obviously this feels very different. So what is the solution?

Here are some Pros and Cons to Making Police Body Camera Footage Public Record

CONS

PROS

  • Especially in the case where footage is being used as evidence, privacy may be key to ensuring a fair trial. To avoid swaying public opinion.
  • The privacy of those involved is important and protected in some cases. Ensuring no one’s rights were trampled, sometimes taking things slow is the better approach.
  • More easily able to identify trouble officers.
  • Increase public trust.
  • Increase Accountability
  • Can be used to back up an officers recounting of an incident.
  • Can ensure proper procedures were followed and accounted for.

Even in 2020 police body cams are still in their early stages of use and even where they have already been implemented the usage has been spotty at best, with some officers turning off their cameras during interactions, and others claiming a “malfunction” it definitely still has some wrinkles to be ironed out.

So while we are still figuring out the right way to regain trust for our police force and legal system in general, the best thing to do is stay informed. A good way to do this and to help everyone to do this is to keep filming! Americans have a constitutional right to film on-duty police officers in public. This has been questioned in the past few years quite a few times and has since been ruled on by the Supreme Court. They ruled that no police officer has a reasonable expectation of privacy while on duty in public. What does this mean exactly? This means you have the right to film them. Especially when they are doing something questionable.

We can look to the future for hope. We would love to see federal legislation that requires body cams for all departments, as well as rules and guidelines to the camera footage itself. The idea is to keep everyone honest and the only way to do that is to be up front and open. We can make a better world for everyone if we make a better effort. I think we can all do better.

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