Report: Police Need More Transparent Body-Worn Camera Footage Policies

By Kenrya Rankin Nov 14, 2017

A new scorecard from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn says that while more law enforcement agencies employ body-worn cameras to record interactions than ever, the presence of footage without policies that increase transparency and accountability can actually threaten the civil and constitutional rights of people of color.

The scorecard was released today (November 14) alongside “The Illusion of Accuracy: How Body-Worn Camera Footage Can Distort Evidence,” a report that explores what happens when law enforcement officers have access to video shot with body-worn cameras.

“As more police departments utilize body-worn cameras, they must not be taken as the last word for police accountability,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, said in a statement. “Our scorecard shows that many police departments are failing to adopt adequate safeguards for ensuring that constitutional rights are protected, and our report shows that unrestricted footage review places civil rights and liberties at risk and undermines the goals of transparency and accountability. Without carefully crafted policy safeguards in place, there is a real risk that body-worn cameras could be used in ways that threaten civil and constitutional rights and intensify the disproportionate surveillance of communities of color.”

Key takeaways from the scorecard, as detailed in the statement:

Only 4 out of 75 of departments expressly allow people who are filing police misconduct complaints to view all relevant footage.

Only 7 out of 75 departments place any limits on the use of facial recognition together with their camera systems.

No department reviewed requires its officers to always write incident reports before watching relevant footage. Only 13 out of 75 departments place any restrictions on officer review of footage, primarily after serious use-of-force incidents.

Only 11 out of 75 departments delete unneeded footage within six months of recording.

Since the last scorecard release in August 2016, 51 percent (26) departments did not have any score changes, 35 percent (18) had minor improvements, and 14 percent (7) actually made their policies worse.

The report advocates for “clean reporting” from officers, which requires that they write an initial report before watching camera footage. Then they can can review footage and file a supplemental report, if necessary.

“Clean reporting would benefit everyone across the criminal justice system. It would improve judicial outcomes by preserving the independence of evidence in the service of fair and thorough fact-finding,” the statement says. “It would reassure the public that body-worn cameras have utility as tools of accountability, rather than simply instruments for enhanced policing. And it would help officers themselves, whose actions could be judged based on their perceptions at the time, rather than being held to account for everything that’s shown in footage.”

Read the full scorecard and report to learn which jurisdictions have effective policies.