Police body-worn camera access nationwide

Executive Summary

Seattle police released this video of a street incident.

  The issue of whether police should wear body cameras recording their actions  became an increasingly active area of public debate following the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the videotaped chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City, and has only increased in prominence after similar footage, such as videos showing the shooting of Philando Castile and Charles Kinsey, has become all too common.  Advocates for body camera usage suggest that requiring officers to wear cameras will serve as a check on police violence and also increase openness and transparency in state and local government more generally.  Most opponents of body camera usage suggest that the requirement would hinder law enforcement officers in the performance of their duties and provide unreliable evidence.  Some privacy advocates also have suggested that police body cameras might be a back door towards allowing heightened government surveillance.  The issue is contentious, cuts across typical political lines, and is ripe for policy-making across the country.

  The D.C. Open Government Coalition has an interest in enhancing the public’s access to government information and ensuring the transparency of government operations.  Accordingly, the Coalition, in conjunction with Ropes & Gray LLP, has surveyed 50 states and 15 major cities to prepare an analysis of the current state of laws and proposals governing police body camera recordings.   This information is current as of July 14, 2016, and was obtained through a combination of outreach to state and local governments and research into legislative and media sources.

  The Coalition is hopeful that its work will be helpful to state and local legislators seeking to understand the choices their peers across the country have made and spurring those legislators to action.  More importantly, the Coalition is hopeful that this work will energize transparency advocates across the country to understand not just what the law is, but what it could be.  By providing this resource, the Coalition ultimately hopes to further its ultimate goal of producing open government in our democratic society.

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