How Soon Should Police Turn Off Their Cameras After a Critical Incident?

In January, a Black man with his hands up was shot to death by a police officer in New Jersey. Video (and audio) of the incident was captured by the officer's dashcam. The incident didn't receive the attention of the Walter Scott video released Tuesday, probably because it seemed to many to be less clear-cut, and because it lacked a dimension of race-based abuse since the shooting officer was also Black.

One thing in this video caught my ear, however. At the end of the video (after the 4:40 point), police voices can be heard beginning to discuss what happened, and then saying, “Turn it off. Turn it off. Everybody should be off.” Then the dashcam video apparently ends. Seems like they were talking about turning off all dash cams and body cameras.

This suggests to me that police cameras should remain on until any officers involved in a “critical incident,” such as a shooting, are removed from the scene to give their initial statements. (I don't know if that's standard operating procedure after a shooting but if it's not seems like it should be.)

The reason for this is to prevent cover-ups and story-synching by any officers who might, after an incident, be inclined to tidy up their version of events including evidence. I can't recall seeing such a requirement in any of the body camera policies I've seen. Most have language requiring that officers record “until the completion of the event or they have left the scene” or a supervisor authorizes them to stop, or the like. One easy fix for what I'm saying might be to simply change the “or” in that phrase to an “and.”

One might argue that the goal of police cameras is to capture interactions between police and suspects, so when a suspect dies the “encounter” is over and the cameras can go off. But the real goal of body cameras is not to capture this or that, but to increase community trust in the police. After the Walter Scott shooting, witness Feidin Santana continued to film until well after the shooting—and so captured the officer apparently setting up the victim by placing a taser next to his body to support his story of why he shot Scott. This has contributed to public cynicism about police cover-ups. Anything that can help reassure the public that no such conspiracy has taken place in an incident can only help the police—for example in situations where police use of force might be justified and yet facing skeptical public scrutiny. And of course where a use of force is not justified, there's all the more reason to protect against cover-ups. 


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Nick Vittum

The answer is simple: NEVER. Those cameras should be running 24/7. With the security camera in any retail establishment, that's a no-brainer. Why should anyone think these cameras should be different?


it should never be able to turn it off while they are on shift. Just Lunch and restrooms use.


Why should they get it off for lunch? They have no rights and we should be able to hear all their conversations at all times. The restroom thing might be abused. They should leave ur in for that too. Just dont look down so we don't see their genitals.

Curtis P California

Full disclosure from any police department is a pipe dream.!!! Police Commissioner's determine how the body camera's are handled by the police forces, !!! Police Chief suggest the guidelines that he likes and the commission approves it, blatant disregard for citizen rights, protecting law enforcement, member's of the biggest and strongest fraternal order of brotherhood and union, now have video evidence to build a case to convict the citizen, the law enforcement officer has access to review evidence recorded for their reports but not the accused, that's not fair.. Typical police tactics against the citizens.


It seems that police and the justice system work hand in hand to coverup police involved shooting of a rancher who was killed by deputies in Cambridge Idaho , by gathering evidence, eyewitness testimony, and then not release any information at all about the facts of the case until the case is more or less forgotten by the public. Deputies involved with the shooting are kept anonymous and kept on paid administrative leave for as long as they can keep the secret investigation within the direct control of the Idaho State Police. Eyewitness accounts state that Yantis was murdered by the deputies and the deputies supervisor said he had no idea if the deputies had their cams on when they shot him.

Damien McLeod

You lead article in your rss feed is from back in early April, when are you going to up date the feed.
I'd like to see some current news from the ACLU, something must have been news worthy since than I would think.


Utilizing amazing technologies available to us today, I'm sure it wouldn't take long for a start-up company to create a camera system on cars and cops that runs 24 hours uploading to the cloud as it goes. As tax payers you could say we are the executive producers of this content and we own it. We should be able to access and monitor all this streaming footage online at our convenience. To make it safe for officers there would be an hour delay before broadcast. And of course sensitive investigations need not be broadcast immediately. Police are public servants and not a society unto themselves.


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