Should Police Officers Control Body Camera Release?

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Body cameras are spreading fast through U.S. policing, and they’re generating an ocean of video. Axon, which provides secure cloud storage for police departments, says it has received more than 4 million hours’ worth of video uploads from its clients. Those videos are usually controlled by the law enforcement agencies that created them. Some are now challenging that practice and proposing alternatives, NPR reports. Alex Vitale, of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, notes that departments usually adopt the cameras as a tool for police accountability. “If it’s really a tool for accountability, perhaps the footage should be under the control under the control of an independent entity,” he says. There is a growing perception that body camera video is really meant to serve the needs of police, not the public.

While police departments often withhold videos of alleged police misconduct, they’re quick to release positive videos; for instance, footage of an officer saving a drowning child. Do departments hide the bad videos and release the good? “That’s not universally the rule,” says Barry Friedman, director of the New York University Law School Policing Project. He’s helped departments write body camera access regulations, and he says the real problem is lack of consistency. “It seems very ad hoc, and yes, it makes people distrustful,” he says. Vitale believes it’s time to “hit the reset button” on the system that gives police custody of the videos they shoot.

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