In the year since Michael Brown's death led to protests in Ferguson, Mo., and beyond, politicians, law enforcement officials and community activists have seized on body cameras as a reform capable of restoring transparency and trust to police interactions with the public. Yet police and other officials are routinely blocking the release of body camera videos while giving officers accused of wrongdoing special access to the footage, says the Washington Post. Police have shot and killed 760 people since January, says a Washington Post database tracking every fatal shooting. Of those, The Post has found 49 incidents captured by body camera, or about 6 percent. Just 21 of those videos have been publicly released. In several of those cases, the footage was severely cut or otherwise edited.
Virtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators. Civil-rights groups fear that access could help rogue officers tailor their stories to obscure misconduct and avoid prosecution. While 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 Washington, D.C., this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency. Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted. 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. Most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.