Who Controls Police Camera Footage?
Police accountability has been a buzzword of late due to the public outcry over police involvement in the deaths of deaths of Michael Brown and other unarmed men. While we all want more police accountability for the benefit of everyone, it isn’t an easy thing to get. One method that has been touted as a possible solution is police body cameras.
Body cameras have a lot of potential to improve accountability in these types of cases, as there would be a clear record of what happened. Unfortunately, this only works if the camera is always running. If police themselves have the ability to turn off the cameras in situations that could get them in trouble or erase damning evidence, the footage becomes useless, or even worse, prejudicial against private citizens.
For this reason, issues arise over who controls footage. If police have no control of the cameras at all, privacy issues come up. After all, no one wants video footage of their arrest to end up on the internet—a situation that wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities with so much footage floating around. Plus, it could invade the privacy of officers. Obviously there should be some safeguard allowing them to turn off cameras to go to the bathroom, for example. Still, when police have full control of footage, the situation becomes vulnerable to abuse, undermining the purpose of the cameras in the first place.
Balancing Privacy and Accountability in Police Camera Footage
In order to better balance privacy and accountability, many have suggested that footage be automatically redacted and sent to be stored by some third-party entity—a part of the police force, but not the same department that would be affected by the content within the footage.
Automatic redaction (i.e. some automatic software program that would blur the faces and license plate numbers of all people recorded by the cameras) would ensure that private citizens do not have their face and private data widely available for no reason. Without an automated solution, police departments would need to edit the footage, opening the door to possible manipulation and abuse.
Furthermore, trusted third party storage would ensure that the footage were as unbiased as possible, although any video will inevitably contain some bias. No overlap between the people affected by the footage and those manipulating or accessing footage minimizes the risk of abuse.
No matter who controls the footage, though, any police force utilizing cameras needs clear, open policies governing camera use. Otherwise, the body cameras will not serve to actually increase police accountability. Here in Pittsburgh, where police camera use has steadily increased over the past year and looks to continue, the question of how to store the footage is particularly apropos. We must push to improve both the privacy protections and accountability related to police cameras to ensure it’s not just a wasted investment.
In the meantime, we must all count on the minimal checks for police accountability and privacy protections that are already in place to ensure our rights are protected. If you believe that you are a suspect in a crime or have been arrested, an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney is the best first line of protection for your rights. Call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC today at (412) 281-2146 for a free consultation on your particular case. We will always fight for your rights, no matter the situation.