Report finds body-camera policy lacking
Allowing cops to preview tape puts people’s rights at risk, nonprofit says.
Minneapolis’ police body camera policy lacks adequate protections against potential abuses of power, according to a new report on the devices’ use at the nation’s largest police departments.
The report, put out jointly by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn Inc. research, said that in particular the practice in Minneapolis and most other big-city departments of allowing officers to review body camera footage before filing a report undermines the cameras’ potential for greater accountability and transparency.
It “creates an illusion of accuracy,” potentially distorting officers’ recollections of what happened during an encounter, and “unduly inflates” their credibility, said Harlan Yu, executive director at Upturn, a D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on social justice and technology. Minneapolis isn’t alone. In fact, the report says most departments allow their officers to review body camera footage to freshen their memory of an incident, including after deadly force is used.
Such unfettered access can put people’s rights at risk and strains police credibility, the report said.
The report lauded Minneapolis’ transparency for making its policy available online and for taking precautions to prevent tampering with video evidence. The department was also credited for requiring that the devices be turned on during most public encounters, rather than leaving it to an officer’s discretion, a practice that has been adopted by most big departments.
Barring officers’ access was one of several recommendations of a 2015 Police Conduct Oversight Commission report that was considered and ultimately rejected by the department as it was crafting its camera policy, said Teresa Nelson, the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union’s legal director.
“I think that that is a huge issue and it’s something that we had to push in the Legislature as well,” Nelson said.
A better approach, the report’s authors concluded, was requiring officers to write their reports before viewing the footage, and then allowing them to file a supplemental report after watching the video. St. Paul was one of only a dozen large agencies of the 75 studied to embrace the so-called “cleanreporting” process, although not for all incidents.
Minneapolis echoed other police agencies by arguing that officers should be able to view the footage to ensure their reports are accurate.
“At this time, we have not seen any major concerns as it relates to officers having the opportunity to review their body camera footage to try to write reports as accurately as possible,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said Tuesday through a spokesman.
The report’s authors also warned about the privacy concerns surrounding the use of biometric technology, such as facial recognition. While law enforcement officials envision one day using biometric data to more easily identify criminals, some worry about its potential for abuse.
Most departments across the country allow police to review footage before filing reports, the report said.