Report: Police Still Slow to Adopt Body-Worn Camera Policies
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights claims a nationwide failure to protect the civil rights and privacy of surveilled communities.
WASHINGTON – Although police departments in the largest municipalities across the United States are making incremental progress in adopting best practices for the use of body-worn cameras, many have still failed to do so, according to a new report by a civil rights advocacy group.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights – a coalition of more than 200 national organizations – released a revised edition of its police body camera scorecard this week, evaluating the way that law enforcement agencies in 50 cities and counties use the technology. The report was administered in partnership with the technology evaluation group Upturn.
The groups expanded their evaluation to an additional 25 municipalities and counties since the initial release of a similar scorecard last November.
The scorecard uses eight criteria derived from the Civil Rights Principles on Body-Worn Cameras signed by a broad coalition of civil rights, privacy and media rights groups in May 2015. The scorecard also highlights notable policies in each of these categories that, of those evaluated, best protect the civil rights of individuals. It evaluates whether each department:
- Makes its policy publicly and readily available;
- Limits officer discretion on when to record;
- Addresses personal privacy concerns;
- Prohibits officer pre-report viewing;
- Limits retention of footage;
- Protects footage against tampering and misuse;
- Makes footage available to individuals filing complaints; and
- Limits the use of biometric technologies.
The purpose of the review was to “highlight promising approaches that some departments are taking, and to identify opportunities where departments could improve their policies,” according to the report. No department fully met the criteria for all eight categories and only 13 departments were able to fulfill the criteria in more than two categories. Police departments in Ferguson, Mo., and Fresno, Calif., failed on every measure, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The report also found that even when departments have camera programs, nearly half (24 of 50) do not make them easily and publicly available on their department Web sites, which hampers robust public debate about how body cameras should be used.
“As police departments across the nation begin to equip more officers with body cameras, it is imperative to recognize that cameras are just a tool – not a substitute – for broader reforms of policing practices. Without carefully crafted policy safeguards, these devices could become instruments of injustice rather than tools of accountability,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We hope that our scorecard will encourage reform and help departments develop body camera policies that promote accountability and protect the rights of those being recorded.”
To view the full policy scorecard, go here.
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