The Justice Department will let police officers wear body cameras during some joint operations with federal agents, lifting a ban that had long frustrated local agencies, the Wall Street Journal reports. Federal law enforcement officers will be banned from using the devices while hunting fugitives or searching buildings, a contradiction that highlights the challenges of developing more formal guidelines governing their use. While a growing number of police departments require body cameras for public accountability, the federal government maintains that recording federal agents’ work would jeopardize sensitive investigations, a policy that has applied to local police who work on joint task forces. A pilot program in at least six cities aims to strike a balance by allowing officers to wear the cameras only during some arrests and while executing search warrants.
Officers would leave the cameras behind during missions involving confidential informants, classified information and national-security concerns. The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which investigates potential terrorist attacks, would be prohibited from ever using the cameras. Department officials hope a trial period of 90 days or longer will help answer major outstanding questions, including how footage should be stored and used in court cases; when cameras should be turned on or off; and how they should be used around undercover agents who require anonymity for sensitive cases. The test run, which comes after months of deliberations with officials from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals and the Drug Enforcement Administration, will take place in about six midsize cities. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said he was pleased that the department acted to address concerns shared by many departments. He leads the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which pushed for changes and helped draft the test run.