A judiciary hearing on the use of body cameras in D.C. was held on May 7.
Questions regarding access to police worn body camera videos, laws for footage, and the public’s role in viewing videos raised concerns on accountability and privacy at a recent judiciary hearing on the use of body cameras in D.C.
The May 7 hearing at the John H. Wilson Building in Northwest D.C. was presented by Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5),chairman of the Judiciary Committee on the “Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) Body-Worn Camera Program.”
“Accountability both individual and organization, requires transparency,” stated D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier in her testimony. “But we also have an obligation to protect the privacy of those with whom we interact.”
Lanier emphasized that restricted footage would be seen by the appropriate parties.
The District’s police department began a body camera pilot program on October 1, 2014. The $1 million project was for six months in which 165 police officers participated.
“We are in an age where this type of technology is becoming more common, and we want to capitalize on that. The presence of cameras will benefit the community and MPD members by improving police services, increasing accountability, and enhancing public safety,” Lanier said.
“While the majority of police-community interactions are appropriate, the use of body-worn cameras may be the catalyst that is needed to transform those that are not,” Lanier continued.
According to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s State of the District Address, she agrees the use of body cameras will benefit the city.
“So last October the MPD launched a pilot program to test the use of body cameras,” Bowser said. “And today I’m here to say that the pilot is over and that we will expand the use of body cameras to all MPD patrol in the next 18 months.”
Bowser’s budget and financial plan, “Pathways to the Middle Class,” includes an allotment for body cameras.
The budget proposal also wants an exemption of video footage from the District’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) under public records law, McDuffie, along with other opponents did not want video footage to be an exemption.
“We want to make sure the MPD has the tools to do their job,” McDuffie said. “We want police-community relations, but what we don’t want is a blanket FOIA exemption.”