Across the country police officers are now wearing body cameras pinned to their uniforms to record contacts with citizens. The implementation of this new technology comes in response to a public outcry for more transparency in police encounters. In 2016, the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) and the El Paso County Sherriff’s Office, launched pilot programs that provide a few officers and deputies with these cameras. CSPD announced on April 3, 2017 they have expanded from the pilot program and now have 440 body-mounted cameras out on patrol in Colorado Springs.
One major issue that has come up is who will get to view the camera footage? If any charges are filed by law enforcement that stem from actions caught on the police-mounted cameras, the video will be handed over to the defense subject to the requirements of Rule 16 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure. What about when the officers choose not to charge but there is information on the video tapes that still may be helpful to explain a controversial situation or reveal inappropriate actions by the police. Are there instances where those tapes may be made available to the public?
It seems that the intent of this new technology is to provide citizens with more information and transparency as to how police officers are conducting themselves. If that’s the case, then the public should be entitled the view the footage. However, law enforcement agencies, cities and state courts are taking very different approaches to this dilemma. For example, the city of Seattle has created a YouTube page where they broadcast all of the footage with many redactions. While Washington DC has elected to make the footage exempt to any Freedom of Information Act request, essentially not allowing any public viewing. Other jurisdictions still have tried to find a middle ground by allowing only citizens who are depicted in the videos to view the footage.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has recently reviewed many different policies on this and made their recommendations:
1. Clear and strictly enforced policies must establish when body cameras will be recording so that the decision of when to record is not left to the discretion of individual police officers
2. Video must be stored for a sufficient time to allow the accused to obtain evidence that is exculpatory or may lead to the discovery of exculpatory evidence
3. Arrested individuals and their attorneys must be given prompt access to all body camera video pertaining to a case
4. Policies must be crafted and equipment must be designed to minimize concerns with the misinterpretation of video
5. Police officers should not access body camera video before preparing their initial reports
6. Policies must prohibit the use of any biometric technologies in conjunction with body cameras
7. Video must not be later viewed to search for additional crimes or take other punitive action against an individual
8. Adequate resources must be available to ensure ongoing officer training on body camera use
9. Sufficient resources must be available to ensure that counsel are appropriately trained and that appointed counsel have adequate time and access to experts necessary to render effective assistance of counsel
10. An independent, non-police agency must retain and control access to body camera footage