When Should Body Camera Video Footage Be Made Public?
There are several legal and privacy issues that need to be determined when examining whether or not all or some of the body camera recordings by law enforcement should be shared with the public and if so, when this should occur.
In a previous post I indicated the necessity for law enforcement to embrace the use of body cameras by officers. I also discussed treating the video footage like all other forms of evidence submitted by officers and the need for all officers to review the footage before writing their incident reports. To read the article, please click on my website and see “Recent Posts” on the left column or under “Blog”:http://www.billcweiss.com
The demand for more transparency in law enforcement and the constant challenge to the credibility of police officers while performing their daily functions, especially concerning incidents involving the use of force, continues to bring this topic to the forefront.
Recently, the District Attorney in San Diego released video of three San Diego police officer involved shootings, a reversal of her previous decisions that all video footage would be treated as evidence to be seen only in court. Faced with this difficult decision, she indicated that the legal rights of all the parties involved must be protected and balanced against the public’s desire to view such video.
She also stated that she will release video, if it exists, from every officer-involved shooting unless the officer is to be charged with a crime. The video would be withheld until it is produced as evidence in a courtroom.
In Seattle, it is reported that the Seattle Police Department apparently releases all body camera video and posts them online.
In Chicago, officials plan to release videos, (dashboard cameras, body cameras, police surveillance cameras, and private surveillance cameras), police reports, and other materials of police-related incidents within 60 days to the public.
Debate continues if video footage should be released only in cases of officer-involved shootings or high profile use of force cases, or if a delay of a few weeks or a month or two should occur. Should police chiefs, district attorneys, or independent commissions decide? These are difficult issues when balancing the needs of law enforcement, the right to privacy, the call for accountability and transparency, the right of the public to know, and the rights of police officers.
Video footage should be treated as all other forms of evidence submitted by officers with their police/arrest (incident) reports. They collect it, observe it, tag it, record and document it, and submit it with their report. The evidence is secured and goes through a chain of command and control before the court process is played out. Body camera video footage should be no different.
Evidence is not routinely or normally released for public review before the adjudication of a criminal or civil court case. Only under exigent or rare circumstances, should the police chief, sheriff, and/or district attorney make the decision if and when the release of video footage should occur before any court case. There should be no need for additional layers of review, commissions, or committees. Let those elected or appointed to these positions of authority, and who are being held accountable in these positions, handle their business and make these decisions. #bodycameras, #lawenforcement, #transparency
As a retired Lieutenant and 32-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Bill Weiss worked various patrol, custody, administrative, investigative, and special assignments. He has been an Incident Commander for several major tactical incidents. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
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