Legislative Alert: Police body cam footage must be presumptively public

  • Oct 18, 2016

Senate Bill 976 would amend the state's Wiretap Act to permit law enforcement officials to use body cameras with audio and video recording. The bill currently contains a blanket prohibition against release of body camera footage under the Right to Know Law. 

VOTE “NO” FOR LANGUAGE THAT IMPOSES A TOTAL RESTRICTION ON ACCESS TO BODY CAMERA FOOTAGE UNDER RIGHT TO KNOW LAW. 

  • The purpose of body camera footage is to promote greater transparency and foster a better understanding of law enforcement’s interaction with the public.  It creates an objective record and a greater understanding of law enforcement-civilian interactions, leading both to increased public awareness of police conduct and improvements in police-community relations.
  • To meet the goal of promoting accountability and transparency, body camera audio and video footage must be presumptively accessible. To enact a contrary policy would defeat the purpose of collecting the body camera footage in the first place and would foster community concerns and mistrust regarding law enforcement accountability.
  • Many police/public interactions occur on public roads or other public settings, and are open and available to anyone at the scene, including an observer recording the interaction on a personal device. As a result, ordinary citizens are capturing interactions between individuals and the police every day, often posting portions of these interactions publicly.  The ‘official’ version of these interactions must be public as well.
  • Other states are embracing the public accountability that can be offered through body camera footage, recognizing that providing accurate information about interactions between the police and the public leads to a better understanding of police actions and better relations between police and their communities.  On numerous occasions, in Pennsylvania and nationally, public access to video footage of interactions between police and civilians has promoted accountability and calmed community concerns about those interactions.
  • There will be circumstances where privacy interests should be considered, and those can be handled through appropriate statutory language and redactions. However, a blanket prohibition against release of body camera footage is contrary to both public and law enforcement interests.
  • Body cam footage must be used as a positive step toward making law enforcement more transparent and accountable to the public, and to help build trust between police and their communities.  This can only occur if the public has access to the footage.

 

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