DOJ Says Federal Agents Will Start Wearing Body Cameras
from the beware-the-asterisk-tho dept
At long last, Department of Justice agencies are joining the 21st century. Years after many local law enforcement agencies (with budgets that amount to rounding errors for DOJ components) have adopted body cameras, the DOJ is finally getting into the act.
Today, the Department of Justice announced the launch of the first phase of its Body-Worn Camera Program that requires department law enforcement personnel use body-worn cameras (BWCs) during pre-planned law enforcement operations. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Phoenix and Detroit Field Divisions began using BWCs today during these pre-planned operations. Over the course of the next several weeks, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) will begin the first phase of their BWC programs. The department’s plans include a phased implementation of BWCs, and rely upon Congress to secure the necessary funding to equip agents nationwide with BWCs.
Caveats, mfers. Caveats. “Pre-planned operations.” Let’s hope this makes up the bulk of federal law enforcement’s interactions with the general public. This means that while federal agents may be wearing body cameras, they won’t be using them to record off-the-cuff convos/searches/seizures/arrests that may come up during day-to-day business.
It’s a start. It’s a start years after the fact. While local cops were obtaining cameras, the DOJ — as recently as 2015 — was saying it would not do business with any cop shops rolling cameras during joint operations.
The obvious solution for cops seeking federal help during investigations would be to uninvite agencies unwilling to roll with rolling cameras. But it probably never worked out this way. Given law enforcement’s love of opacity, local cops probably loved having a reason to remove their cameras while doing citizens dirty with their federal partners.
It took another five years before the DOJ agreed to allow federal agents tag along on raids and investigations involving local officers wearing body cameras. Now, less than a year into Attorney General Merrick Garland’s leadership, federal agents have been ordered to start wearing body cameras.
Keep these public-facing, super-enthusiastic statements in mind when the lawsuits and investigations start rolling in, accusing federal officers of copying their local level compatriots by “forgetting” to activate cameras or being unable to retrieve recorded footage when demanded by plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuits or defendants in criminal trials.
This sounds like a lot of people being forced to smile at
“ATF welcomes the use of body worn cameras by our agents,” said Acting Director Marvin G. Richardson of the ATF. “The department’s policy reflects ATF’s commitment to transparency as we work to reduce firearm violence in our communities.”
“The Drug Enforcement Administration is committed to the safety and security of the people we serve, our agents, and task force officers,” said Administrator Anne Milgram of the DEA. “We welcome the addition of body worn cameras and appreciate the enhanced transparency and assurance they provide to the public and to law enforcement officers working hard to keep our communities safe and healthy.”
“The FBI remains committed to meeting the need for transparency,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Phasing in the use of BWCs is another important way for us to meet that need.”
Let’s break this down.
The ATF welcomes no additional “transparency.” Never has. Never will. And its efforts to “reduce firearm violence” are pretty much entrapment that targets impoverished minorities who the ATF feels will be much easier to bully into lengthy sentences.
The DEA doesn’t care about the people it serves. It only cares about racking up incredibly cheap wins in a war it has been losing since its inception. Elvis Presely was given a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (the DEA predecessor) badge by Richard M. Nixon. Talk about setting yourself up for failure. The DEA does not keep communities safe and healthy. It cannot pretend otherwise.
And fuck the FBI. “Committed to meeting the need for transparency.” Really? It’s been almost 1,200 days since the FBI promised to correct its count of encrypted devices in its possession — a number it had overstated by at least 5,000 devices during its neverending agitation against allowing innocent citizens to protect their devices and communications from outsiders. That’s just one refutation of the FBI’s allegiance to “transparency. ” The rest of it is contained in the agency’s litigious refusal to hand over documents in response to public records requests.
The FBI not-so-secretly wishes it was the CIA, if not the NSA itself. It does not care about transparency. And it will accept these cameras begrudgingly, ensuring they’re turned off any time agents perform a “custodial interview” or engage in anything it considers to be national security related.
While it’s great the DOJ says body cams are go, the actual implementation may be far less underwhelming than the GO TEAM TRANSPARENCY enthusiasm expressed in these public-facing statements. These agencies have operated under the public accountability radar for years. The addition of cameras won’t change that much.
But let’s not let our cynicism be used against us. They should have these cameras. And when footage goes missing or unrecorded in close cases, the benefit of doubt should be awarded to the non-moving (read: non-prosecutorial) party. If this happens often enough, we might finally see some meaningful deployment of cameras — one that ensures officers are accountable to the people paying their paychecks.