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As smartphone cameras have become ubiquitous, our mindset has changed. We are aware that our behavior can be recorded by anyone at any time and any recording can go viral. In some ways, that is terrifying, but in other ways, it is also comforting. It works to help keep people’s behavior in check. There has been much discussion in the news lately about making police body cameras a part of every officer’s standard uniform. Recently, Governor Wolf has said that he would sign a bill exempting police from providing the public with copies of these recordings.
Researchers have found that when police wear body cameras, they exert inappropriate force half as often. Citizen complaints plummet because body cameras provide a measure of accountability that informs the behaviors of both police and citizens. People tend to be more civil when they are being filmed. Technology has enabled us to record police conduct and hold them accountable for their actions, yet politicians continue to resist the movement urging these recordings to become a matter of public record.
Many lawmakers and politicians across the United States have opposed the mandatory use of body cameras. Recently, the most newsworthy issue has been whether the footage recorded by these cameras is a matter of public record. Pennsylvania’s own Governor Wolf has taken a strong stance against releasing footage of body cameras. Wolf has agreed to sign a bill that recently passed in the Senate that would exempt police body camera recordings from public record requirements.
Some have said that this bill is primarily designed to assure convictions, and less about protecting citizens from police brutality. Under current law, police can deny requests for recordings if they or the prosecutor’s office deem the identity of a victim or informant confidential. Also under current law, all recordings made inside a law-enforcement facility are exempt from public record requests. Those who request police audio or video footage must make a request within 60 days, or else be permanently barred from reviewing the footage. Further, police have discretion to deny any request if they find that evidence in an investigation cannot be effectively redacted from the recording. Although citizens can obtain body camera footage at any time by court order, record retention policies may work to destroy footage before a citizen can acquire it.
Police are already subject to a concept known as “qualified immunity.” Qualified immunity protects public officials, such as police offers, from liability for civil damages if their conduct does not violate the statutory or constitutional rights a person would ordinarily have. Declaring body cam footage a matter of public record could have acted as a check against this system, helping to end more instances of police brutality.
As citizens, we all pay taxes so that our police force will protect our safety and serve our interests. No one deserves to be victimized by those who are tasked to protect us. If you have experienced police brutality or violation of your civil rights, contact an experienced Philadelphia civil rights lawyer today at 215-557-0099 or contact us online. At Williams Cedar, we provide free consultations.