Today the Raleigh City Council authorized the Raleigh Police Department’s officer-worn body camera program, including a policy detailing how officers will use the cameras.
Although the final policy includes some of the recommendations we made over the last year, there is still a lot of work to be done. We have several concerns with the policy as it goes into effect and believe it contains significant barriers to police accountability and transparency. Our top 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. This particular piece of the policy becomes important when there is an incident involving an officer’s use of force, misconduct, or the violation of a person’s rights. In those critical situations when there is an investigation into the officer’s conduct, and often different accounts of what happened, it is important that the officer provide an initial statement that is not influenced by what is shown in any video footage. Otherwise, the officer may be able to tailor their account of what happened based on what is shown—or not shown—in the video.
The policy does not provide enough details of how officers will be disciplined, if at all, if they violate this policy. Police and city officials should provide clear guidelines for how officers will be disciplined if they violate the policy to help promote accountability.
The policy does not make it easy enough for a person to view video footage when they are recorded by the cameras. 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 during regular business hours. And to actually view the footage, they will have to return to the station a second time. This makes it harder for people to exercise their basic right to view the footage if they cannot take time off of work or do not have transportation to get to the station during the day.
Body cameras should be a tool to make law enforcement more transparent and accountable to community members, but this policy makes it difficult to achieve those goals. Raleigh Police Chief Deck-Brown has said this policy is a “living, breathing document.” We hope officials will keep that promise, listen to the concerns of Raleigh residents, and revisit these issues sooner rather than later.