Washington, DC – Civil rights advocates demanded accountability from law enforcement agencies through the use of bodycams in the wake of the Ferguson riots.
One at a time, police departments nationwide have implemented bodycams, at considerable expense, to satisfy their critics and provide more “transparency” in law enforcement.
The result? A new report from The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said that bodycams pose a “threat to civil rights.”
A big concern listed in the report is an officer's ability to watch the footage whenever they want, including before they write incident reports.
“Unrestricted footage review places civil rights at risk and undermines the goals of transparency and accountability," Vanita Gupta, current leader of the Leadership Conference, said,
Gupta is a civil rights attorney, former ACLU director, and former acting assistant attorney general of the civil rights division under former President Obama.
The report claimed that an officer's memory of an event may be altered by watching bodycam video footage, and reports written by the officer about the incident would then also be altered.
The problem appears to be that defense attorneys can't pick at minor differences between an officer's memory and what's recorded on video.
“Video’s power to improve policing lies in the fact it makes us all eyewitness to police-civilian interactions, ranging from tragic shootings to more quotidian but nonetheless disturbing stop-and-frisks, which are common and … often unconstitutional,” the Washington Post said in an opinion column.
“Video provides compelling evidence of police misconduct and can be used to train, discipline, fire and even prosecute officers. It’s also a potent tool for exonerating officers falsely accused of misconduct. Ultimately, the aim is avoiding illegal, inappropriate police-civilian interactions, because everyone involved acts differently knowing a camera is rolling,” they wrote.
Civil rights groups don’t have a problem with bodycam footage until it’s used to exonerate a police officer, or shows that suspects and victims have threatened police, or behaved badly during a recorded incident.
At that point, bodycams become a threat to civil and constitutional rights, according to Gupta’s assessment.
The Leadership Conference, in its report, called for police departments to institute "a clean reporting policy” where an officer would write an initial report before viewing the footage.
Some policing experts, such as Lance LoRusso, disagree.
LoRusso, a former police officer and current Atlanta attorney who represents police officers, said that police officers should view the body-cam footage before writing a report.
"This specter that every time an officer looks at the video they’re going to lie and adapt their statement just is infuriating because we want the officers to write the most accurate report they can,” he said.
Since one major purpose of bodycam footage is to keep all parties involved honest and “transparent,” the Leadership Conference’s one-sided approach doesn’t make any sense.