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What Happens to Police Body Camera Footage

In response to the increased concern and public outcry against police brutality, use of force, and abuses of power, many police departments across the country have implemented the use of body cameras as a way to increase accountability. Those jurisdictions equip some, or all, police officers with cameras that are worn on the officer’s clothing that record interactions with witnesses, suspects, and bystanders. Of course, while there may be the hoped-for increase in accountability, the increase in video recordings of private citizens raises additional questions about the civil rights of those on camera.

Notice of Recording

A key issue arising in the use of body cameras is the privacy interests of those being recorded, who may include suspects of crimes, witnesses to crimes, or bystanders, as well as details about them, such as the car that they drive, the house they live in, or any other information that is captured by a body camera. An article in the Harvard Law Review questioned whether such video necessitated a warning by officers wearing cameras that those who interact with the officer are being recorded. The American Civil Liberties Union has suggested providing notice “wherever practicable” and has suggested having officers wearing cameras also wear a pin or sticker identifying that a camera is recording.

Access to Recordings

One of the issues arising in jurisdictions implementing body cameras is whether or not the footage recorded should be public. There are a number of competing interests. Some people believe that if the footage is not released to the public, police officials can continue to ignore abuses of power and avoid accountability, and that by releasing the video to the public, police departments and local governments have an increased incentive to address issues.

In addition to competing interests, there are also federal and state laws that govern citizen access to public records. Even where state law would allow body camera footage to be accessed, many states have introduced legislation specifically exempting body camera footage from public records laws. The rationale is that while the footage is designed to shed light on police behavior, there is a compelling interest to protect the privacy of citizens featured in the recordings.

Use in Trial

Another question regarding potential limits for the use of body camera footage is what role the footage might have during criminal, or even civil, trials. If a police officer interviews a victim or witness, and that initial conversation is recorded on the body camera, a new piece of evidence has now been created. If a victim declines to press charges or victims or witnesses don’t wish to cooperate with a criminal case, state’s attorneys or prosecutors may be more willing to proceed with the case knowing that they have the video footage. Victims or witnesses, then, may be less likely to drop charges knowing that the case will move forward anyway without their cooperation.

With the rapid change of policies in the area of police reform and accountability, as well as the rapid changes in available technology, it can be difficult to understand or even identify civil rights violations immediately. In situations where your rights may have been violated, it’s important to have an experienced attorney to guide you through the law and the process. If you or your loved one has questions about your rights, contact the Miami attorneys at The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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