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Who should control the videos from police body cameras?

Citing reasons such as public accountability, many police departments here in the U.S. have been having their officers wear body cameras in recent times. As law enforcement use of these cameras has grown, concerns have been raised over some aspects of the practice. Among these are concerns over who has control over the video generated by such cameras. This includes control over decisions such at what such video gets released to the general public.

The current standard practice is for the police department using the cameras to control the footage from them. Some argue, however, that this practice raises issues and potential problems, including issues regarding:

  • Police accountability and public trust: Some claim that police control of such videos could erode public trust that such cameras are being used to increase police accountability. The idea is that there could be a public perception that police will only release video that makes them look good and not footage that could make them look bad.
  • Privacy concerns: Some have raised worries that police could use the large amount of footage generated by police cameras to engage in policing tactics (such as predictive policing tactics) that might infringe on people’s privacy.

In connection to these concerns, some have suggested a systemic overhaul in who has control of such footage. Some have suggested that control over body camera footage be taken away from police departments, and instead given to independent entities.

Do you think control over body camera footage here in Minnesota should remain with police, or instead go to a third party?

In addition to having the potential to have big impacts on the relationship between the police and the public, body camera footage can also have significant impacts in individual criminal cases. For one, such footage could end up as coming up as evidence in such cases on what happened in a given police-suspect interaction. So, as body camera footage becomes more common and as changes are considered in the systems related to such footage (such as who controls such footage), it can be important to think about what impacts trends when it comes to body cameras could have on what kinds of issues are likely to come up in criminal cases where such footage is available. One wonders what impacts giving initial control of camera footage to an independent agency would have in this regard.

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