Civil rights group releases scorecard on police body camera policies

[JURIST] The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and data analysis company Upturn [official websites] released the Body Worn Cameras Scorecard [statistical report] on Saturday, a report which concluded that the policies concerning civil rights and the use of body cameras varied widely in more than 50 police departments that were evaluated. Each department’s body camera policies were evaluated based upon eight criteria derived from civil rights principles on body worn cameras. The study considered whether the department: 1) makes the policies publicly and readily accessible, 2) limits officer discretion on when to record, 3) addresses personal privacy concerns, 4) prohibits officer pre-report viewing, 5) limits retention of footage, 6) protects the footage against tampering and misuse, 7) makes the footage available to individuals filing complaints and 8) limits the use of biometric technologies. The report found [NBC News report] that the Ferguson and Fresno police departments failed every single criterion on the scorecard, while San Francisco, DC and Chicago’s policies were recognized as “model” examples. Additionally, it was found that the Milwaukee police department, while prohibiting officers from gaining unauthorized access to footage, did not prohibit officers from “modifying, deleting, or otherwise tampering with footage.” Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Baltimore do not make their policies available on their website, while Pittsburgh and Detroit do not make their policies available at all. President and CEO of Leadership Conference Wayne Henderson [official profile] stated: “There is an assumption that these cameras protect the civil rights and privacy of communities under surveillance but … cameras are just a tool and not a substitute for broader reforms.”

Policing incidents related to body cameras and racial profiling have been a highly contested issue dating back to the Ferguson shootings [BBC report] from last year. In January, JURIST Guest Columnist Alexander Burns discussed [JURIST op-ed] the pressure and struggles faced by police departments in the state of Indiana in implementing body cameras. In August 2015 Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner [official website] signed [JURIST report] the Law Enforcement Body Worn Camera Act into law, establishing sweeping regulations for police officers’ use of body cameras while on duty. The previous month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office announced [JURIST report] that the New Jersey State Police will spend $1.5 million to acquire 1,000 body cameras for troopers, in addition to the implementation of new guidelines aimed at expanding disclosures about investigations of officers’ use of force. In February of the same year the self-defense products company TASER International Inc. [official website] announced [JURIST report] that Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office will be receiving an order of cameras which will be worn by officers to record their actions in the field. Under the sales agreement, TASER would deliver 700 body cameras, costing an estimated $1 million. In 2014 the UN Committee Against Torture [official website] urged the US [JURIST report] to open investigations into all cases of police brutality and excessive use of force by police officers.

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