In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, the Reporters Committee argued that the controversial issue of access to body cam videos need not be that controversial.
Debate in Washington D.C. over police body cameras, and who should be able to see the resulting videos, has heated up in recent weeks. Despite promises of transparency, the Metropolitan Police Department has denied FOIA requests for body camera video, and Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a new exemption to the DC FOIA that would completely prevent public access to bodycam videos.
Existing public records laws, and their exemptions, can ensure public access to the videos while protecting privacy and sensitive law enforcement information. Based on these exemptions, videos can be edited and private information blurred or obscured. While MPD Chief Cathy Lanier says it would be unduly burdensome to edit the videos, commercial companies are already redacting videos for other police departments in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
Body cameras are being adopted to promote accountability and public trust in law enforcement. If the public never sees what’s on the videos, the entire rationale behind this new technology is undermined.