Police Body Cam Footage Possibly Going Public in D.C.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser of Washington, D.C., has proposed a plan that would make most police body cam video footage available to the public. Exceptions would be made for videos taken in places that are considered private and where people expect privacy (particularly video taken indoors), both of which would be kept private.

D.C. implemented a pilot program last fall that gave body cameras to some police officers. Overtime, Bowser would like to expand this to include all of D.C.’s 2,800 officers at an estimated cost of $5.1 million.

When she announced the program, Bowser said, “The bottom line is, we believe that the body-worn cameras will enhance police work in our city, especially at a time when our population is steadily growing.” She described the program as “the right thing to do for our officers and our residents.”

At this time, Mayor Bowser had opposed making this footage public, citing privacy concerns. In a recent statement, though, Bowser said, “Earlier this year, I proposed putting D.C. at the razor’s edge of body worn camera implementation and despite numerous hurdles that’s exactly what we are poised to do.”

“Nationally, we have all seen too many instances where video footage proved to be invaluable. That’s why we are committed to providing every patrol officer with a camera,” she added.

According to Delroy Burton, head of the D.C. police officers union, this new implementation will eliminate the public only seeing video of officers making mistakes.

“Nobody had any objections when they were just vilifying the cops. But the minute the officers say, ‘Give us the cameras, let everyone see what’s going on the other 99percent of the time,’ well, then all of a sudden, there’s a problem,” he said. “From our perspective, put on the camera. Let’s see. Let everyone see.”

While not yet confirmed, the plan will potentially let people view the video of their police encounter within 90 days of the recording. Prosecutors, city auditors, inspectors, the Office of Police Complaints and academic researchers would be able to view the footage as well.

Video from cases of domestic violence and sexual assault will continue to be withheld from the public so as not to make victims even less likely to report their attack, according to Bowser’s aides. The faces of minors will also be blurred out, whether the video was recorded in a public or private setting.

Debate remains when it comes to certain gray areas, such as if places like restaurants, government buildings and public housing should be considered public or private. There is also a possibility that recordings of traffic stops that do not result in an arrest will not include audio in order to protect peoples’ personal information.

In high-profile cases, the final decision on whether or not to release the footage will be made by the Mayor.

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