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Report reveals police body camera programs fail to protect civil rights and privacy

 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn have released a scorecard evaluating the civil rights security measures of police body-worn camera programs in 50 U.S. cities, which reveals a nationwide failure to protect the civil rights and privacy of surveilled communities.

This latest edition, which follows up on the November 2015 scorecard evaluating 25 programs, updates the policies of those original police departments that have amended their policies.

It also includes 25 additional programs, including the nation’s largest police departments with body-worn camera programs, programs that have received significant funding from the Department of Justice, and programs in cities that have been investigated for high profile incidents of police violence.

Departments in this edition of the scorecard include Albuquerque, Aurora (Colo.), Austin, Baltimore, Baltimore County, Baton Rouge, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fairfax County (Va.), Fayetteville, Ferguson, Fort Worth, Fresno, Houston, Las Vegas, Louisville, Los Angeles, Memphis, Mesa, Miami, Miami-Dade County, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Montgomery County (Md.), New Orleans, New York, Oakland, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Parker (Colo.), Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh (Penn.), Rochester (N.Y.), Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa, Tucson, and Washington, D.C.

“As police departments across the nation begin to equip more officers with body cameras, it is imperative to recognize that cameras are just a tool – not a substitute – for broader reforms of policing practices,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Without carefully crafted policy safeguards, these devices could become instruments of injustice rather than tools of accountability. We hope that our scorecard will encourage reform and help departments develop body camera policies that promote accountability and protect the rights of those being recorded.”

The scorecard takes into account eight criteria from the Civil Rights Principles on Body-Worn Cameras signed by a broad coalition of civil rights, privacy, and media rights groups in May 2015.

Additionally, the scorecard highlights notable policies in each of these categories that best protect the civil rights of individuals.

The criteria includes whether each department makes its policy publicly and readily available, limits officer discretion on when to record, addresses personal privacy concerns, prohibits officer pre-report viewing, limits retention of footage, protects footage against tampering and misuse, makes footage available to individuals filing complaints, and limits the use of biometric technologies.

There are several negative trends highlighted in the report, including the fact that no department completely met the criteria for all eight categories and only 13 departments were able to fulfill the criteria in more than two categories; none of the department policies have a blanket limitation on officer review of footage before filing an initial written incident report; Aurora (Colo.), Detroit and Pittsburgh appear to use cameras in the field but have not released their policies to the public; and even when departments have camera programs, 24 of 50 don’t make them easily and publicly available on their department websites.

The report also identified a few positive trends, including departments establishing explicit procedures that allow recorded individuals to view the footage of their own incidents, and leading departments now including limits on their use of biometric technologies like facial recognition.

“Body cameras carry the promise of officer accountability, but accountability is far from automatic,” said Harlan Yu, principal at Upturn. “Our goal is to help departments improve their policies by bringing attention to areas where policy improvements can be made and highlighting promising policy language from around the country.

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