DC Mayor Reverses Course On Body Cam Footage, Opens Up Recordings To Citizens And Researchers

from the putting-the-'public'-back-in-public-records dept

Back in April of this year, Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser sided with the city's law enforcement against transparency and accountability. The mayor promised to outfit officers with body cams in the wake of several, high-profile police-involved shootings. But two weeks after this promise in her State of the District speech, Bowser tucked a provision into a budget bill that would exempt the footage from public records requests.

Supposedly, this was done in the interests of "privacy," but the blanket exception just meant local law enforcement would never feel compelled to hand over less-than-flattering footage. Bad news, to be sure, but only a few months later and Mayor Bowser has completely reversed course.

Police in the nation’s capital would release more footage from body cameras than in any other major U.S. city under a plan from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser that reverses her previous opposition to making such videos public.

Bowser’s proposal, which has the potential to shed light on thousands of recorded interactions between police and the public, would allow private citizens to obtain copies of video recorded on street corners, during traffic stops and elsewhere outdoors.
There will still be some exemptions. Anything recorded in a private residence would be limited to court proceedings and footage of traffic stops resulting in no arrests or citations will be heavily redacted to prevent the inadvertent release of personal information.

The reason for Bowser's change of heart? Police officers just kept right on killing people.
In a statement to The Post, Bowser cited continued police shootings over the past year as a reason for the change, saying the tide has tilted in favor of greater disclosure even as governments must strike a balance between privacy and transparency.
The balance has been tipped back in favor of the public, thanks to the actions of law enforcement. In addition to making most camera footage responsive to public records requests, DC citizens will also be allowed to view footage of incidents they're involved in by heading to their local police station within 90 days of the event. Access to all footage will be granted to researchers studying the effects of body-worn cameras.

DC cops who thought their videotaped misconduct would be stashed away from the prying eyes of the public aren't going to be thrilled with this reversal. And they have no one to blame but their colleagues.

Filed Under: body cams, dc, muriel bowser, privacy, washington dc


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  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 5:09pm

    Stop shooting people.

    Nice not-so-subtle message; translation: "Stop shooting people."

    But why does it have to be couched in riddles? Why are all of our lawmakers incapable of just saying it outright? It's easy: "Stop shooting people."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 7:16pm

      Re: Stop shooting people.

      "Stop shooting people."

      Oh, come on. They're only shooting minorities. You know, blacks, chicanos, the homeless, and maybe Native Americans. It's a bit disingenuous to stretch that out by saying they're shooting "people", as if they're shooting just anyone. Get a grip. Bleeding heart liberals. Gah!

      [Do need to mention this is sarcasm?]

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Sheogorath (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 7:42pm

        Re: Re: Stop shooting people.

        [Do I need to mention this is sarcasm?]
        You? No. Anonymous Coward? Yes. :)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Dan, 21 Aug 2015 @ 3:06am

        Re: Re: Stop shooting people.

        Native Americans are actually killed and imprisoned at far greater rates than blacks of Hispanics. It's really kind of a crime against humanity how America has brutalized that population even after systematic genocidal eradication campaigns. The problem is that it all happens out of sight and put of mind in the desolate ghettos, aka, reservations, that native people have been forced into and have had ethnic cleansing campaigns waged against them. Focusing on Black Lives Matter is almost selfishly and even really racist in and of itself in the face of the brutality and suffering the Native American communities are subjected to.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2015 @ 5:31pm

    I am sure they will blame the public for exercising rights the police do not think they should have

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 6:03pm

      Re:

      Nah, why attack the public when you can use them as a shield?

      I'm betting on the standard sleazy tactic of claiming that their objections to the cameras, and the recordings from them being public, are based entirely upon concern for the public's privacy.

      The police of course would be overjoyed by the cameras, but they're just so very concerned for the public's privacy you see. /s

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldGeezer (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 6:01pm

    Good cops would welcome the cameras

    A few months ago a Wichita cop answered a break in call. He came up just as the man was leaving. When ordered to stop the man pulled a gun out and ran. The cop did not shoot and kill him until the guy clearly stopped, turned around and leveled the gun at him. This time there were no cries of police brutality because the entire incident was recorded on the store's security cameras. Sometimes police shootings are completely justified. In situations like this the footage means such matters can be quickly resolved. I'm sure some bleeding hearts would whine "why didn't he shoot him in the leg?" That is not how they are trained. They are taught to stop an imminent threat by shooting center mass. Too many people watch unrealistic cop shows where someone points a gun at them and instead of shooting they plead and try to reason them to put it down. Truth is; if you are stupid enough to point a gun at a cop, expect to be shot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2015 @ 7:29pm

      Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

      Why didn't they just shoot the gun out of his hand? /s

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OldGeezer (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 9:00pm

        Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

        "Why didn't they just shoot the gun out of his hand?"

        I'm afraid only Roy Rogers had that skill.

        Some people will criticize the police no matter what they do. There was a PCP junkie here that murdered his girlfriend, robbed a WalMart pharmacy firing his gun in the crowded store and barricaded himself in his apartment. He shot at the police numerous times. They had reason to believe he had large quantities of ammunition and bomb making materials. The standoff went on for 36 hours and our police chief was criticized for finally saying "Let's take him out". Even after hitting the apartment with a fire hose he shot at the SWAT team as they moved in. The way some people complained you would think they shot Mother Teressa!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Zem, 20 Aug 2015 @ 9:31pm

          Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

          "The way some people complained you would think they shot Mother Teressa!"

          As we are all equal under the law, they did shoot Mother Teressa. They shot me, and they shot you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            OldGeezer (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 11:19pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

            Wrong! When you are directly endangering the lives of both police and civilians you are not equal under the law. He fired several shots inside the store and dozens at police. One reason they waited as long as they did was they were hoping he would finally sleep and they could take him alive. He was so high that he was probably up the entire time.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Zem, 21 Aug 2015 @ 1:38am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

              OldGeezer, you still don't get it. Even then they are still equal under the law.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                OldGeezer (profile), 21 Aug 2015 @ 3:59am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                Except the law says that if someone is shooting at you, that you have a right to shoot back. Would you say the same if one of his shots killed a cop or a civilian? He already strangled his girlfriend the day before. He also tried to deliberately run down a highway patrolman in his truck. If he had surrendered instead of shooting at the SWAT team then he would have been entitled to his Miranda rights and a trial.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Marcel de Jong (profile), 21 Aug 2015 @ 4:37am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                  Shooting back isn't the same as shooting first. Only Han Solo should do that. But yeah aiming a gun at a cop is a really bad idea.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  John Fenderson (profile), 21 Aug 2015 @ 9:40am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                  I think the point is that if you're shooting at people (or cops), whether or not you're Mother Theresa becomes instantly irrelevant.

                  Equal under the law.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              tqk (profile), 21 Aug 2015 @ 6:42am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

              One reason they waited as long as they did was they were hoping he would finally sleep and they could take him alive.

              Then they should've just filled the place with tear gas and pepper spray. You can't aim steadily when you're coughing your lungs out and can't see for tears filling your eyes.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                sam, 21 Aug 2015 @ 9:05am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                Luckily you aren't in charge of tactics then.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  tqk (profile), 21 Aug 2015 @ 10:29am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                  All I suggested is if they wanted to take him alive, try that first. If it worked, it'd be safer for the SWAT team than going in with guns blazing. If it didn't work, they'd end up doing that anyway.

                  Luckily you weren't in charge of tactics either.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                OldGeezer (profile), 21 Aug 2015 @ 1:24pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                They did that and he kept kicking through walls into other apartments. Much of the time they weren't sure where he was until he started shooting at them again.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2015 @ 3:42pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                someone starts shooting at you, you start shooting back regardless of if they are a criminal, a dirty cop or whatever.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  John Fenderson (profile), 24 Aug 2015 @ 8:20am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

                  It's not hard to come up with lots of circumstances where shooting back is something you absolutely do not want to do.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2015 @ 1:24am

        Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

        Because the hand is, quite literally, a smaller target, and the risk is greater of catastrpohic damage.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      puckerup, 21 Aug 2015 @ 9:23am

      Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

      The "good cop" is a myth in 2015.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2015 @ 3:40pm

      Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

      of course the same could be said for someone that has anyone point a gun at them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 6:16pm

    [...] Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser [...]
    *raises eyebrow* Is anyone else thinking of Super Mario right now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Sheogorath (profile), 20 Aug 2015 @ 11:11pm

    Maybe this is the real reason for the turnaround

    [...] sensitive records are already protected in District FOIA law by an exemption for documents where disclosure would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." That same exemption would apply to the body camera footage, so Bowser's excuse for the blanket ban doesn't hold up.
    (Original quote snitched from the linked Washington City Paper article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Magnum Scorsese, 20 Aug 2015 @ 11:38pm

    Short Term Good WIll be Subverted

    For the short term the more widely available body-cam footage the better because it will help bring accountability to the police by reducing their ability to he-said she-said out of disputes.

    But, give them a few years to work it out and the powers that be will start applying Big Data techniques to the all of the footage all of their officers collect in order to turn the tables and assert their dominance once again.

    I hope that before it gets to that point we'll have implemented serious data protection that prevents anybody from getting access to footage without a full blown warrant. Specifically no automated processing of the footage by anyone, it gets encrypted and time-stamped at the camera, goes into the cloud for permanent storage and the decryption keys stay with the court - only to be handed out after judicial review, with an expedited and inexpensive path for normal citizens to request footage that applies to themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2015 @ 1:34am

    because of the undying response from Police and others, the one further thing that should have been mentioned, i feel, is the right for the police and security forces to be recorded, both on film and on tape, as long as they were not being obstructed in their duty. it has been mentioned a lot, but it is still not adhered to. having an 'official' mention might just stop people's cameras from being seized and/or wiped and/or broken, just to remove evidence of bad police behavior

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Another Anonymous, 21 Aug 2015 @ 12:48pm

    No privacy problem if citizens do their own recording

    There should be an easy way to mount a camera in the car door inside the glass pointing at any stranger approaching the car. Powered via wires, not batteries which would be dead when really needed.

    The privacy problems come only when the police have the only record, which has to be made widely available to check repeated police dishonesty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Vladimir, 21 Aug 2015 @ 3:49pm

    The Russian populace has it right

    Every car equipped with a dash cam. I'd go one further;every citizen with a body cam. Cameras on every street corner, every building entrance and exit, etc., etc., ad infinitum, or whatever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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