Police Body Cams: What’s In, What’s Out

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Photo by North Charleston via Flickr

States have taken a more cautious approach to the deployment of police body cameras over the past year, with many establishing pilot groups rather than rushing in with new legislation—and others adopting strict rules governing public access to video footage.

The shifting policy landscape in 2016 was tracked by the Urban Institute as part of its ongoing study of how legislatures are setting frameworks for police use of bodyworn cameras in the wake of controversial police shootings of unarmed civilians and other allegations of police misconduct.

“The state policies governing police body camera use are changing as rapidly as cameras are being deployed,” reported Nancy G. La Vigne and Margaret Ulle of the Urban Institute in an analysis released yesterday.

Eighteen states passed new body camera laws during 2016, but growing recognition that the “issues around body camera use are more complex than they expected” has led many to engage pilot programs or study groups that can help set standards for officer training and other aspects related to the new technology.

For example recent legislation in some states strictly regulates when police should turn the cameras off. In the District of Columbia, officers are not allowed to record at a school if they are engaged in “noncritical contact.”

Connecticut prohibits officers from  recording in a hospital, mental health or other medical facility unless they are engaged in recording a crime suspect.

The caution comes as many police departments realize that there are hidden costs—including some that are reinforced by new legislation. In Indiana, for instance, agencies are now required to retain body-camera footage for at least 190 days.

“After estimating that this would cost as much as $100,000 annually, the Clarksville, Indiana police department suspended its body camera program,” said the report.

Read the interactive feature here.


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