In Battle Over Police Video Footage, Should Crime Victims Be On YouTube?


Most big city police departments, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia, still are testing body cameras, and it could be at least a year before a significant number of officers are wearing them. The New York Times says the battle over who has the right to see the film is underway. At public forums, advocates for the cameras have pressed the police to make the footage public. They point to police killings of unarmed black men and boys that did not lead to criminal charges, saying recordings could provide a fuller view of events than police accounts or even witness testimony. “If the public doesn't have the opportunity to view the video on their own, they are left with the police version of what happened, and as we've seen recently, their version isn't always what happened,” said Laniece Williams of the Philadelphia Coalition for Racial, Economic and Legal Justice. “Even in cases where there isn't a fatal shooting, there are instances where police brutalize people and the public should be able to see the video.”

Among a flurry of 87 bills related to body cameras that have been introduced in 29 legislatures, 15 states are moving to limit what the public is allowed to see from the recordings. In some cases, lawmakers want to remove the videos from public records laws, says the National Conference of State Legislatures. “The issue challenges the assumption that everything that happens in public should be public,” said James McMahan of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “But I don't know that we want a woman standing there with bruises and scratches and other signs of domestic violence to be posted on YouTube. The instance of her being posted online forever might be a greater crisis than the original incident.” In Florida, the Sarasota Police Department has temporarily halted its body camera program after an American Civil Liberties Union of Florida lawyer sued over the cost of obtaining footage. The city said it would charge $18,000 for 84 hours of video to be placed on DVDs — about $214 an hour of video.

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