A Plug-and-Play Model Policy for Police Body Cameras

Ferguson.

Staten Island.

Pasco.

North Charleston.

Baltimore.

An unarmed person of color. Dead at the hands of law enforcement. And then another. And another. And another. And another.

Seeking to stem the tide of senseless death, a national search began for an appropriate response. In short order, a growing chorus of elected officials, law enforcement, and community leaders settled on a common answer: police body cameras. Recent surveys suggest that more than one in four police agencies have already started using them.

Unfortunately, the violence, injustice, and inequity that plague our system of law enforcement will not be solved simply by affixing tiny cameras to officers' lapels. In fact, without the proper policies in place, the widespread deployment of police body cameras could do more harm than good. If body cameras are used to cast a net of roving surveillance over communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, they will cause harm. If police officers are given discretion as to when to turn on and off their cameras and key moments go uncaptured when violence erupts, they will cause harm. If video footage is captured but state laws or law enforcement policies prohibit the public from viewing it, they will cause harm. And if body camera videos are released en masse, resulting in the widespread violation of American's privacy with no public benefit — except perhaps to fans of TMZ and "COPS" style reality shows — they will cause harm.

If, however, police body cameras are deployed within the framework of a well-considered policy that strikes the proper balance between promoting transparency and protecting privacy, police body cameras might just do some good. To that end, and in response to overwhelming demand, the ACLU is releasing a model bill for use by state legislatures and local police departments to guide the development of their laws, policies, and procedures on the use of body cameras. This model bill is far more than a wish list — it is a comprehensive plug-and-play policy for those seeking to implement a sound police body camera program.

To date, we know of no state government or local police department body camera policy that checks all the right boxes. For example, Seattle's pilot program has strong rules governing when body cameras should be used, but it falls short in allowing police officers to review video footage before filing reports, which undermines investigations into police misconduct in many ways. The Seattle program also lacks disciplinary measures for officers who violate the rules.

The Los Angeles Police Department's policy, while fairly strong as to when officers should and should not use their body cameras, completely undercuts the goal of promoting transparency by hiding virtually all body camera footage away from the public. And in a state like Florida, even the best department-level body camera policies will be undermined by a new state law that shields large classes of body camera footage from disclosure under the pretext of protecting privacy.

To some extent, the hit-and-miss nature of state and local policies is understandable. The popular outcry for body cameras and the subsequent rush to use them in an effort to save lives and to bolster accountability left little time for contemplating complex issues of public policy and constitutional rights.

But the ACLU has taken that time. We have spent countless hours examining and contemplating police body camera policies, including in those areas where principles we care deeply about — like privacy, racial justice, reforming police practices, and criminal justice reform — are inescapably at odds with each other. The result is that we have come through the process with a model bill that wisely balances the many important and competing interests that are inherent in any police body camera policy.

As we gain more real world experience with police body cameras, it is very possible some policy determinations reflected in our model bill may need to be reconsidered. That being said, the ACLU is confident the recommendations in our model bill are strong enough to be relied upon by states and local police departments throughout the nation.

There is much we must do to remedy the shortcomings of our nation's law enforcement system. The implementation of sound police body camera programs is just a small piece of that effort, but if done right, it will likely be an important and valuable step in the right direction.

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NationalPolice

Perhaps a national program monitored by the NSA would be helpful. Imagine, a nationalized police force with military powers that has millions of cameras pointed in every direction. Don't forget the drones that will be autonousmly flying recon support overhead. So hella yeah! Let's put automatic machine guns, body armour, helmets on every cop and nationalize them. Don't forget each one gets a body camera controlled by the NSA, overseen by the FBI, and monitored by the CIA. What a perfect program, we won't even need Hollywood to produce violent riot movies anymore, it'll be live!

Body cameras are a double edge sword that Americans should be careful with.

James

To prevent police from forgetting or "forgetting" to turn their cameras on, the units really need to be recording from the moment they are signed out at the beginning of shift, to the end of shift where footage is downloaded.

All recordings should remain sealed unless entered into the public record, as in a court proceeding. This would in no way preclude the police from employing separate video and still cameras for surveillance and evidence-gathering purposes.

If the point of body cameras is to provide oversight of police officers, the officers cannot have control over those cameras or their information.

Anonymous

-- "An unarmed person of color. Dead at the hands of law enforcement. And then another. And another. And another. And another.

Seeking to stem the tide of senseless death..."

There has to be a semblance of truth at the ACLU. If the ACLU is to be a religion I strongly disagree with the leadership. The ACLU is more valuable as an actual organization that isn't based on fantasy.

Eric Garner: Body cameras would have made no difference. There were cameras everywhere. And we have to find out what exactly the police did wrong in their initial contact. "Chokeholds" aren't illegal or a violation of civil liberties. They're permitted around the country, and the police still maintain it wasn't even a chokehold!

Michael Brown: How can you assume it was a senseless murder with the facts the way they are?

Pasco: As far as I know the police are authorized to use deadly force if someone is throwing rocks at them *from a very close range*. This is conveniently omitted from almost all commentary.

The ACLU isn't just cherry-picking the data. It's engaging in outright make believe. I'm not interested in this type of organization. We need a leadership change.

RRR

How many people have been murdered in Baltimore in the last month? That's what happens when the ACLU gets its way. Yes ACLU, call the police off. Let the murders begin!

Ramon Flores jr.

There is no Freedom..If I have to Fear getting killed by Police(Without legal Justification}...Lawenforcement should enforce..RIGHT TO LIFE,FREEDOM,JUSTICE EQUALLY FOR ALL U.S CITIZENS....

Steve Hutch

Jeez. This article was written with such resignation. There has to be a way that more cameras will work. We need to show the police that this will help them to show us, the public, what a great job they are doing on a daily basis. All police forces seem like a private institution to me. They are not out on the streets to be public servants. They are there to make arrests. We gotta make this camera thing work or it it will slowly be forgotten.

Anonymous

The Problem with

Body Cams and In car recordings systems
Is they the dept don't enforce there use , just request and or
recommend the officer logs in or else there will be NO VIDEO.

There is no real disciplinary action if an officer " forgets too" log in . and the surprising thing is the video system could easily
set by the DEPT to default on with out the officer having to do anything . and they more often seem to have a video that show someone at fault during a traffic stop and not so much when
there is a question or a dispute of the officers conduct provide
the car occupant wasn't killed .

ROBERT

The Problem with

Body Cams and In car recordings systems
Is they the dept don't enforce there use , just request and or
recommend the officer logs in or else there will be NO VIDEO.

There is no real disciplinary action if an officer " forgets too" log in . and the surprising thing is the video system could easily
set by the DEPT to default on with out the officer having to do anything . and they more often seem to have a video that show someone at fault during a traffic stop and not so much when
there is a question or a dispute of the officers conduct provide
the car occupant wasn't killed .

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