Thursday, December 03, 2015

Who Controls Police Dept. Videos?

The benefits of video of police-citizen incidents has become clear.  However, additional issues remain.  One of these is control of the video.
According to the NYT:
“A Chicago police officer shot and killed a teenager named Laquan McDonald in October of last year, but most of us learned about Mr. McDonald only last week, after a judge ordered the release of police video footage of his death. That is also when prosecutors finally brought first-degree murder charges against the officer. Clearly, such footage has considerable power. . . .  But while protesters have criticized the delayed response to the shooting, no one seems to be asking a more fundamental question: Why were the police in control of the footage in the first place?”
About a third of police departments in the United States have started to use body cameras, and they typically have almost complete control over the programs. Police departments decide when cameras should be rolling, how long the footage is stored, who gets to see it and how it can be used in the future. Individual officers operate the record button, and their supervisors decide what happens when those officers fail to comply with the department’s recording policy (usually, not much). [This is another area that needs to be tightened up.]
"In Albuquerque, where the police have a body-camera program, a Justice Department investigation found that officers repeatedly failed to record uses of force against civilians, even when they had a clear opportunity to do so. This violated department policy, but very few of the officers were reprimanded. . . .  Even when officers do record uses of force, it is often difficult, if not impossible, for anyone outside law enforcement to obtain the footage unless a court orders its release.”

There are legitimate reasons not to release videos, such as damaging a defendant’s right to a fair trial.  However, this is what judges rule on, not police departments.  The author, Sarah Lustbader, recommends that some neutral third party control the videos.  As long as the third party is ethical and reliable, it sounds like an idea work exploring.

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