Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Police Policies a Mixed Bag

Magazine article The News Media and the Law (Online)

Police Policies a Mixed Bag

Article excerpt

The Washington, D.C., Metr opolitan Police Depar tment r ecently r eleased 12 police bodycam videos in r esponse to a public r ecor ds r equest fr om the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The release of about 23 total minutes of video comes mor e than five months after the Council passed a law setting forth procedures for public access to the videos.

The D.C. MPD is just one of many police depar tments ar ound the countr y adopting this video technology and working with lawmakers, courts and the public to establish access policies. An interactive map of laws and policies around the U.S. is on the Reporters Committee website.

The D.C. videos, which r ange fr om seconds to sever al minutes in length, wer e cr eated on the fir st day of the agency's bodycam tr ial program in late 2014. Their content varies, but largely consists of officers in police vehicles on patrol and learning to use the cameras.

Notably, the face of ever y police officer in the videos, even those standing on public sidewalks, is r edacted. The MPD explained that the redactions were made under the privacy exemption to D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act.

Kevin Goldber g, pr esident of the D.C. Open Gover nment Coalition, told the Reporters Committee that redacting the faces of all police officers on the job is "troubling."

If the MPD is "r edacting the faces of police officer s in a non-controversial situation, what is going to happen when we really do need to see what happened on the video?" Goldberg noted.

MPD Pr ivacy Officer Elizabeth Lyons says the cur r ent policy is to redact the faces of law enforcement officers regardless of where they are.

"The pr ivacy of the officer s is impor tant, and we'r e pr otecting that under the law," she said. "So even if they're in the public ... sphere [the faces] will be redacted."

She did tell the Repor ter s Committee, however, that ther e is "a discussion to be had" about those redactions.

Goldberg says there's been a "trend around the country to protect the identities of officers, whether they be faces, names" or other things.

In Febr uar y, the Vir ginia Senate voted to amend the state's public records law to exempt the names of any state or local law enforcement officer fr om disclosur e. After concer ns wer e r aised by the pr ess and public, the bill was ultimately tabled.

Other states around the country have passed laws in response to the widespr ead adoption of bodycams, many of which expand the pr ivacy pr ovisions in their public r ecor ds laws. Nor th Dakota, for example, exempts videos "taken in a private place", and Florida's Sunshine law now allows law enforcement agencies to withhold videos "taken in a place that a reasonable person would expect to be private. …

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