A new study shows that without informed policies governing the use of body cameras, they could actually increase street-level surveillance and the targeting of minorities. The study evaluates how more than two dozen police departments’ body camera policies stacked up against eight criteria derived from a set of Civil Rights Principles for Body Worn Cameras.
The joint report, Police Body Worn Cameras Policy Scorecard, is authored by the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights with the backing of 34 U.S. civil society organizations, including the NAACP, ACLU, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and La Raza.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would give funds for local and tribal law enforcement agencies to buy cameras, and develop effective policies governing how the cameras are used.
The “scorecard” shows that the funding is not in keeping with critical civil liberties goals. The six departments that received the maximum body camera grant of $1 million – Detroit, Chicago, Miami, San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC – all received failing grades on their policies, meaning they ignored or developed policies that ran directly counter to the civil rights principles and criteria. These include retention and use of footage, the privacy of individuals filmed, public access and transparency, and limits on use of body cameras in combination with biometric data.
Body cameras may be intended to better review police conduct, but these cameras are not focused on officers, but are instead recording the community around them. The report claims the DOJ should stop “rewarding departments with bad policies” and instead establish specific rules protecting civil rights and liberties as a condition to get body camera funding.
“The best way to shift body camera funding in the right direction is to offer specific policies that are required to receive federal grants. This will provide guidance to departments that want to set out proper policies, and will stop funds from being used to expand programs that use body cameras for surveillance rather than accountability.”