Many police agencies in California are beginning to implement the use of body cameras on officers, and this has led to a growing debate about whether police body camera footage should be released to the public.
Some people argue that denying the public access to the filmed police encounters defeats the purpose of the body cameras, which is to promote transparency in the way police interact with citizens. But the Southern California chapter of the ACLU is demanding policies that will protect people’s privacy, while police agencies are worried about what could happen if the footage is made public.1
Pros and Cons of Releasing Body Cam Footage
Those arguing that police body camera footage should be released to the public argue that transparency is the underlying idea behind using body cameras. The threat of making footage public could reduce police-involved shootings of unarmed people, and transparency would help ordinary citizens understand how difficult it is to do the job of a police officer.
However, releasing the videos to the public would not come without consequences. Potential victims and alleged offenders would have private moments publicly displayed for all to see, which could be especially jarring during a moment of crisis, such as a domestic violence incident or assault. This could even cause some people to avoid calling police due to privacy issues.
Public viewing of footage could also taint potential jury pools and hinder a police investigation.
The Body Camera Debate
There are number of additional issues currently being debated regarding body cameras. Will police officers be able turn the cameras on and off at will? How will the footage be retained? How long will the body camera footage be stored by police agencies?2 A criminal prosecution can take a long time to complete and filmed encounters may need to be stored for years. Some footage might have to be retained for decades in order to protect an accused’s rights during the appeal process.
Clearly there needs to be a balance between transparency, public access to information, and protecting people’s right to privacy. This debate is only likely to continue as body cameras are put to use and more potential issues are uncovered.
Do You Think Body Camera Footage Should Be Made Public?
Do you have an opinion on the topic of police body cameras? Should footage be made available to the public? If you were involved in an encounter with police, would you want that encounter to be filmed? Would you be opposed to having footage from that encounter released to the public? Do you think filming police encounters will help avoid unjustified police shootings?
Wallin & Klarich wants to hear from you. Please continue the discussion by leaving a comment below.