The U.S. Justice Department is urging local police departments to adopt body cameras, saying they are an important tool to improve transparency and trust between officers and citizens. Privately, reports the Wall Street Journal, the department is telling some of its agents they cannot work with officers using such cameras as part of joint task forces. That is because the federal government hasn't adopted guidelines on how and when to use body cameras, rules that would be important to determining how any footage could be used in court, released publicly, or stored by law-enforcement agencies. The contradiction points to potential challenges for federal agencies that work closely with local police, such as U.S. Marshals. It underscores how slow the Obama administration has been to craft its own rules on cameras, even as it pushes local authorities to adopt them in the wake of high-profile police shootings.
Assistant Marshals Service Director Derrick Driscoll told supervisors that the agency wouldn't allow local law-enforcement officers wearing body cameras to serve on Marshals task forces. The Marshals Service, an agency in the Justice Department, runs scores of task forces, teaming up with local police primarily to hunt fugitives and violent criminals. Some experts said policy contradictions aren't surprising as the nation's law-enforcement officers move toward widespread use of bodycams. “We're going to have some growing pains as we move in the direction of more body cameras,” said Ron Hosko, a former FBI official who now heads the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit. He added that a no-cameras policy can lead to a perception “that you have something to hide when you don't record.''