Officer-worn body cameras have the potential to increase transparency and improve trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve by making it easier to hold officers accountable if they use excessive force or violate people’s rights.
But these cameras can’t do that on their own. They need strong policies to guide their use. Without them, these tools can instead be used to surveil or target communities of color and provide little or no benefit to the public.
Last night the Raleigh Police Department released a revised policy detailing how Raleigh officers will use body-worn cameras. Over the past several months, the ACLU-NC has worked with PACT (the Police Accountability Community TaskForce) and other community members to make important recommendations to the policy. While the final policy includes some positive improvements, it still includes serious barriers to true accountability and transparency. Our three main concerns are:
- The policy allows officers to view the body camera footage before filing an initial written report or statement. We believe this is a poor investigative practice and leads to bias or even lying in reporting, not to mention undermining the overall goal of officer accountability.
- The policy does not provide enough details of how officers will be disciplined, if at all, if they violate this policy.
- If a person recorded by a body camera wishes to see the footage, the policy requires them to turn in their “request for disclosure” forms in person, at one specific police station—making it harder for people to actually exercise their right to view the footage if they cannot take time off of work or do not have transportation to get to the station during business hours.
It is also worth noting that copies of the policy have not been provided to community members, nor is it available online. This is a significant change in the police department of North Carolina’s second biggest city, and every resident should have the opportunity to review it.
On Thursday, December 21, the Raleigh Police Department will hold the last public information meeting about the policy. On January 2, the Raleigh City Council will vote to authorize the execution of the body-worn camera program.
We along with PACT believe that the City Council should not move forward in authorizing the program if these changes are not made. Without policies that ensure transparency and accountability, this technology will become a tool that does not serve the interest of the community.
Take action by contacting your City Council representative. Ask them to vote “No” on funding for body cameras without an adequate policy in place.