Body Cameras Are Everywhere, But Recordings Remain Locked Up Tight

from the thin-blue-line-more-resembles-a-moat dept

All over the nation, police departments are deploying body cameras. But there's no guarantee the public will have any access to the footage. As Kimberly Kindy and Julie Tate of the Washington Post report, the ultimate goals of greater accountability and transparency are routinely being thwarted by law enforcement agencies.

While individual police departments are adopting rules on the local level, police chiefs and unions are lobbying state officials to enshrine favorable policies into law. In 36 states and the District this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create statewide rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency.

Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted, The Post found. Eight of those expanded the use of body cameras. However, 10 set up legal roadblocks to public access in states such as Florida, South Carolina and Texas. And most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.
Footage is routinely being withheld by these agencies, even when state laws indicate the recordings should be treated as public records. Guidelines governing the recording of incidents are frequently being ignored. When an officer ends a life, recordings of these events are almost nonexistent.
Nationwide, police have shot and killed 760 people since January, according to a Washington Post database tracking every fatal shooting. Of those, The Post has found 49 incidents captured by body camera, or about 6 percent.
In the few cases where footage has been released to the public, it has often been heavily-edited before being handed over. Other footage is simply withheld in full. There's still one group that has unlimited access to body cam footage, even while friends and family of their shooting victims don't.
[V]irtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted their officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators.
If a cop kills someone, the only person guaranteed to see the unedited footage (if any exists) is that cop. Everyone else is locked out by police-friendly legislation and/or easily-abusable public records exemptions.

And again, these efforts mounted by law enforcement agencies to shield their personnel from accountability are routinely portrayed as beneficial to the general public.
“If you have a kid who drank too much on his 21st birthday and the police are called, do you really want video of that kid, sick and throwing up, to be on YouTube for the rest of his life?” said Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and chief of the University of Central Florida’s police force.
I guarantee you that if an agency thought dumping this video into the public domain would somehow be beneficial, this footage would be released and posted to YouTube for the rest of this person's life. There would be no discussion of "privacy," and the agency would be sure to remind everyone that public incidents in public places carry no expectation of privacy.

Law enforcement officers have very little respect for the people on the other side of the blue line. This is why the Fourth Amendment is treated as subservient to law enforcement's needs and wants. This is why they make sure a victim's full rap sheet makes its way to journalists within minutes of a police-involved shooting. This is why they treat minors as adults just so they can apply harsher punishments for "sexting." This is why they'll publish lists of every person's name found in the Contacts list of a suspected prostitute's phone. This is why they invite news crews to SWAT raids.

But now that the use of body cameras increases the risk that one of their own could be embarrassed for the rest of their life by these recordings, these officials have suddenly developed a concern for the privacy of citizens. The only thing transparent here is how self-serving these disingenuous statements are.


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  • identicon
    PRMan, 20 Oct 2015 @ 4:22pm

    Really?

    "This is why they'll publish lists of every person's name found in the Contacts list of a suspected prostitute's phone."

    Um, I'm pretty sure if the Chief of Police or Mayor or any Federal official is on the list, they will NOT be included in the list.

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

  • icon
    Charles (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 5:04pm

    "The only thing transparent here is how self-serving these disingenuous statements are."

    The only thing transparent here is how self-serving these disingenuous bastards are.

    FIFY

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2015 @ 5:25pm

    they might as well slap a "state secrets" label on it

    This is no different from the United States military's policy of releasing fighter aircraft / drone strike video. The public gets to see a highly cherry-picked selection of video that shows military actions -- and by extension, US policy -- in the most flattering light.

    But anyone who dares to leak video showing American war crimes -- as Bradly Manning famously did -- can expect to spend decades in prison in near-Guantanamo-like conditions.

    And since the police in this country are essentially a domestic occupying army at war with the public, can we ever really expect any different attitude as far as police releasing/withholding un-sanitized video that allows the citizenry to make up their own minds about what really happens?

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 7:29pm

    I was pretty sure this would happen...

    Considering that dashcam footage and seized security cam footage are treated exactly the same way: withheld unless it serves the prosecutors and doesn't embarrass any officers.

    Having body cams is nice, but until they become available to everyone involved and the public, they're not going to serve as oversight of law enforcement.

    And maybe that needs to be a change of attitude that when you invite the police into your house, you invite the public, and they get to see all your dirty laundry.

    At that point maybe civilians will start respecting the consequences of allowing police to go through your stuff and will utilize their rights for that to not happen.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 5:35am

      Re: I was pretty sure this would happen...

      the way things are going you are looking at a fascist police state or open revolt.

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 7:33pm

    Prostitute Contact Lists

    Soon to be distro'd to the hooker community, the dox of every local public official, especially elected ones and law enforcement, to be added to their phone list.

    Publish this.

    Bothers me doubly, that this is the treatment given to suspected prostitutes and not convicts. Talk about denial of due process.

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

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 7:47pm

    It is entirely normal and natural that body cam footage be restricted and available only at appropriate times. The invasion of privacy to citizens would be too high otherwise.

    Remember, Techdirt is applauding defeats of plate reader cameras because they take so many images that *might* infringe someone's privacy. It is 100% certain that a police body camera would, at some point, violate someone's privacy and as such, the videos should be locked up pending court order or criminal investigation.

    It's really simple, you can't have it both ways. Body camera footage is way more likely to invade privacy then a camera mounted on a car driving down the street.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 9:48pm

      Re:

      It is entirely normal and natural that body cam footage be restricted and available only at appropriate times. The invasion of privacy to citizens would be too high otherwise.

      Concern for public privacy is a point, now, try telling that to the police.

      '[V]irtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted their officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators.

      If the public isn't allowed to see the footage, then neither should the cops. If the cops can see the footage, then so should the public.

      Body-cams do come with privacy concerns with regards to the public, and it should be discussed, but not by the police, given the huge conflict of interest.

      The only reason they suddenly developed a 'concern' for the privacy of the public is because body-cams stand to upset the status quo, where it's their word versus the word of the suspect, and where the judge always believes the cop. Introduce video evidence into the mix though, and suddenly it's not quite so one-sided, which is the only reason they care.

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

      • icon
        Whatever (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 10:40pm

        Re: Re:

        "If the public isn't allowed to see the footage, then neither should the cops. If the cops can see the footage, then so should the public."

        I think there is at least one significant difference at play here: The cop was there, the public wasn't. It's a record of what they saw and did, and since whoever and whatever they saw has already been "seen" by them, there is no additional violation of privacy, as the cop was already there. Showing the same footage to someone who was not there would almost certainly incur a violation of privacy.

        "The only reason they suddenly developed a 'concern' for the privacy of the public is because body-cams stand to upset the status quo"

        Double edged sword. I think there are plenty of "innocent citizens" who would hate to see how badly they behave, and wouldn't want that footage to get out either. Honestly, Americans in general are rude, loud, obnoxious, and hold the law and the rest of society in contempt at almost all times - their own worst enemies. I suspect that if the police started dumping / doxing members of the public with the obnoxious behavior on cams, there would be no end of lawsuits - doubly so if the police just handed the footage to anyone asking.

        How long do you think it would be before there would be a "citizens behaving badly" video channel on youtube?

        The expectations of privacy of the citizens is still pretty darn high. What happens inside a house, even when the police are there, is still relatively private. Handing out the footage of every arrest and every situation would most certainly violate a citzen's right to privacy.

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 11:25pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          The cop was there, the public wasn't. It's a record of what they saw and did, and since whoever and whatever they saw has already been "seen" by them, there is no additional violation of privacy, as the cop was already there.

          The problem is their access to the footage allows them to modify their statements to match what's shown. No longer are they saying what they felt and thought at the time, now they get to tailor their statements to whatever places them in the best light and matches the footage. Does a suspect get to see any video evidence of their actions before making their statements, or are they forced to go off of memory?

          Again, it's a matter of double-standards. If you want to say that the footage should only be accessible through court approval, that's fine, but it needs to work both ways. If someone from the public needs to go through the court, then so should the police. If the police don't need to get court approval, then neither should the public.

          Double edged sword. I think there are plenty of "innocent citizens" who would hate to see how badly they behave, and wouldn't want that footage to get out either. Honestly, Americans in general are rude, loud, obnoxious, and hold the law and the rest of society in contempt at almost all times - their own worst enemies.

          Again I stand in awe at how you can type something out, without realizing how you can turn it right around on those you are defending. Replace 'citizens' and 'americans' with 'police' and you've summed up a large part of the problem. 'Innocent' police don't want their actions made public, often hold non-police in contempt, and through their actions in defending their own, no matter how corrupt, are their own worst enemies.

          I suspect that if the police started dumping / doxing members of the public with the obnoxious behavior on cams, there would be no end of lawsuits - doubly so if the police just handed the footage to anyone asking.

          Did you miss this part from the article?

          'This is why they make sure a victim's full rap sheet makes its way to journalists within minutes of a police-involved shooting. This is why they treat minors as adults just so they can apply harsher punishments for "sexting." This is why they'll publish lists of every person's name found in the Contacts list of a suspected prostitute's phone. This is why they invite news crews to SWAT raids.'

          They already show no hesitation is leaking 'private' information on suspects, whether for laughs, or simply because they can.

          How long do you think it would be before there would be a "citizens behaving badly" video channel on youtube?

          And how much attention do you really think that would get? There are already countless videos of people acting like idiots, hell that's probably the majority of 'reality' tv right there. 'People acting poorly' wouldn't garner that much attention, and if that was the cost of people being able to hold police, public servants, accountable for their actions through body-cam footage, I'd say the trade-off would be more than fair.

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

          • identicon
            just saying, 21 Oct 2015 @ 12:18am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            rsp sheets are public information. each case coveted in a public court of law. no expectations of privacy there.

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

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 21 Oct 2015 @ 12:50am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              That may be so, I was focusing more on the 'why' over the 'what' with that particular line. The police aren't throwing that information at the journalists for the sake of the accused, they're doing it for their own sake, so the idea that the police are just ever so concerned about the public's privacy... yeah, not buying it.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Howard, Cowering, 21 Oct 2015 @ 4:28am

          Re: #12 Whatev

          The cop was there. So what? Did the cop consciously note everything that happened? Or was his/her attention focused pretty tightly on the suspect?

          Why should the cop have the exclusive right to review and re-review video footage of the event so the notes and narrative can be crafted in the best possible (from the cop's point of view) light?

          Herp: Public records.
          Marriage licenses. Building permits. Real estate sales. Municipal budgets and line items therein. Precinct blotters. Court proceedings (unless sealed).
          Derp: Are public.

          Bad behavior on either side of the badge is unnecessary and antisocial. Honestly, non-Americans in general are so quick to apply their own personal standards to everyone else's behavior - talk about contemptible...

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 6:03am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Handing out the footage of every arrest and every situation would most certainly violate a citzen's right to privacy.

          However, this already happens. We certainly don't hold off on a news story about someone getting arrested until after they are convicted.
          The arrest, mug shot, details, etc are all publicly available before any conviction whatsoever.

          So I guess I'm not following how there's some magical right to privacy that would somehow be subverted by making body cam footage public.

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

          • icon
            Whatever (profile), 21 Oct 2015 @ 8:55am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            That is quite a different story. An arrest is news, the information generally public, the news cameras may have been their and filmed the arrest. If the arrest happened in a private location (say a home or business) generally the news won't have the arrest, but perhaps the good old fashioned perp walk. They cannot legally enter a private residence to shoot the news.

            The cops body camera is clearly in the private residence, and releasing that footage would absolutely be a violation of privacy, no debate.

            What happens if police enter a private home, meet with a woman who has been beaten by her husband / lover / boyfriend and who is hiding out at her friends house or halfway house. Should the boyfriend be able to request the footage to know exactly where she is? Would her privacy be violated by giving that footage out? Most certainly and without a doubt.

            See, there is no magic or simple formula here, except that the one person who should be able to view the footage - the only person privy to it's content - is the copy himself (or herself). They were there, their viewing the footage again violates no privacy that wasn't already set aside by circumstances before.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 11:07am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Should the boyfriend be able to request the footage to know exactly where she is?

              If it is pertinent to his defense - then he should not only be able to request it, but he is entitled to it. Remember - despite the emotion that someone who is battered invokes, the person doing the battering is still innocent until proven guilty.

              Would her privacy be violated by giving that footage out?

              Her privacy doesn't trump his right to face his accuser.

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

  • icon
    Arioch (profile), 20 Oct 2015 @ 9:08pm

    Nothing to Fear

    And here we go again with the tried and tested "double standards".. If you are doing no wrong, you have nothing to fear.
    So where is the problem?

    I do not doubt that there are several videos of me in various states of inebriation on the web and none are of any particular interest to the general public.

    The simple fact is that a Law Enforcement Officer's actions should be totally transparent and available for scrutiny.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2015 @ 9:10pm

    It's not that editing the footage to protect privacy is a bad thing. It's that there's no oversight to the video editing process. Police departments can cut out whatever they want in the video and essentially "cherry pick" only the good things that arise.

    There needs to be more input to the process of releasing the videos outside of police control. Something that respects the privacy of the people in the videos, but doesn't have any obligation towards portraying the officers in a positive or negative light.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2015 @ 9:13pm

    we were all kind of expecting this punchline, weren't we?

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

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 21 Oct 2015 @ 2:33am

    They like the authority, the power - why don't they want to be on TV? It's rather natural for that type in most other professions. And they certainly make a display of themselves in public. And never have any trouble releasing video if it is in their interest, or for kicks.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 5:33am

    Let me guess the police defense is something along these lines?

    "we do not like being held accountable when we are caught breaking the law. so we are with holding evidence of any wrongdoing, because our job security is worth more than the lives of the people we are supposed to be protecting"

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

  • identicon
    Chuck, 21 Oct 2015 @ 5:59am

    The answer is simple. We need consumer body cams.

    I wish I had the power to will a device into existence.

    We need a small camera hanging on a necklace. Something that could be worn at all times. The device should be an emergency camera. Once activated it should record video and audio, and send distress emails to friends and family members, as well as upload video and audio to internet based servers that can't be deleted by anyone except the user.

    A camera like this could be useful in dozens of different types of situations. It seems like no one will believe anyone about anything unless there is video evidence. I believe with the state of law enforcement and the propensity for law enforcement to outright lie, break the law, and use unnecessary force that it is crucial to film the police at all times. It is literally the only effective tool against poor law enforcement. Nobody believes anything unless they see it with their own eyes.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 7:00am

    Grass Root protests outside their doors may be the only thing that can make a difference .

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

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 21 Oct 2015 @ 12:48pm

    Sleep, Sleep, I Know I'm Only Dreaming*

    The only thing transparent here is how self-serving these disingenuous statements are.

    Hey, citizen you are not supposed to notice that trifling discrepancy in our law enforcement professionals conduct.

    Please go back to sleep, watch the boob-tube or stare at your (not-so) smart phone some more but never, ever question those in positions of authority as they might be embarrassed or worse yet held accountable.


    *Lyrics in Subject line borrowed from Roger Waters, Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, 4:37 AM (Arabs With Knives, And West German Skies)

    Link to Roger Waters song 4:37 AM:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaNgKAGQ8sk

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2015 @ 1:42pm

    Dont worry folks, im sure their being well preserved in their industrial grade acid tub storages

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


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