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ACLU Statement on Providence Police Department Plans to Acquire Body Cameras

Posted: September 27, 2016|Category: Open Government Police Practices

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The ACLU of Rhode Island today issued the following statement in response to the Providence Police Department’s plans to acquire force-wide body cameras:

“While body cameras can benefit the public and law enforcement by bringing much-needed transparency to policing, the policy we understand is currently in use by the Providence Police Department will serve only to shroud body camera footage in secrecy and raise serious questions as to the discretion used by law enforcement in activating the cameras. These questions must be resolved before the start of any widespread body camera program.

“Under this policy, police have broad discretion in when to turn the cameras on and off, allowing for law enforcement to choose to turn body cameras on after an incident has commenced and the body cameras can no longer shed much-needed light on a situation. Beyond immediate officer safety concerns, any subjectivity in decisions to turn body cameras on or off raises concerns about what is not being captured by cameras, and why. While the policy encompasses many of the instances in which a body camera should be activated, unintentional gaps in the ‘Body Worn Camera Activation Parameters’ leave law enforcement open to allegations of subjective body camera use and may fail to capture many of the instances in which body cameras may be most helpful.

“Further, the policy lacks clear guidance as to the release of body camera footage. Particularly in light of recent events in Charlotte, North Carolina and the controversy surrounding release of footage in other municipalities using body cameras, it is imperative that any body camera policy clearly allow for the release of footage to the public, without delay. The greatest benefit of body cameras to the public is that of transparency in policing – a benefit that is denied to the public if the Providence Police Department can choose to deny access to these videos.

“The ACLU of Rhode Island calls on the Providence Police Department to publicly promulgate a new policy for the use of body cameras, with these concerns taken into account.”

The policy the Providence Police Department operated under during the body camera trial period is available here.

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