Obama Task Force Suggests Study of Body Cam Policies

26 March 2015

President Obama’s Task Force on 21st-Century Policing has issued a report that includes pro-transparency recommendations, and recommends creation of “best practices” for states on topics including the disclosure of video taken from cameras worn by police officers.

Obama appointed the task force after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the fatal chokehold that was applied to Eric Garner in New York City. Both unarmed men were killed by police officers. Obama said the White House officials follow up on the report and decide how to get the ball rolling on some of the recommended initiatives.

The report advocates more transparency, stating early on:

1.3 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should establish a culture of transparency and accountability in order to build public trust and legitimacy. This will help ensure decision making is understood and in accord with stated policy.

This is expanded on in “action items,” including:

1.3.1 ACTION ITEM: To embrace a culture of transparency, law enforcement agencies should make all department policies available for public review and regularly post on the department’s website information about stops, summonses, arrests, reported crime, and other law enforcement data aggregated by demographics.

The report at various points calls for improved data-gathering, dissemination and research.

2.2.4 ACTION ITEM: Policies on use of force should also require agencies to collect, maintain, and report data to the Federal Government on all officer-involved shootings, whether fatal or nonfatal, as well as any in-custody death.

The report urges clarity about what information will be released, stating:

2.2.5 ACTION ITEM: Policies on use of force should clearly state what types of information will be released, when, and in what situation, to maintain transparency.

Best Practices Recommendation

The task force recommended that the U.S. Department of Justice, “in consultation with the law enforcement field, should broaden the efforts of the National Institute of Justice to establish national standards for the research and development of new technology.”

“As part of national standards,” the report says, “the issue of technology’s impact on privacy concerns should be addressed in accordance with protections provided by constitutional law.” It continues, “Though all constitutional guidelines must be maintained in the performance of law enforcement duties, the legal framework (warrants, etc.) should continue to protect law enforcement access to data obtained from cell phones, social media, GPS, and other sources, allowing officers to detect, prevent, or respond to crime.”

The task force suggested development of “best practices” that would cover the now controversial area of body camera footage. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

3.3 RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. Department of Justice should develop best practices that can be adopted by state legislative bodies to govern the acquisition, use, retention, and dissemination of auditory, visual, and biometric data by law enforcement.

These model policies and practices should at minimum address technology usage and data and evidence acquisition and retention, as well as privacy issues, accountability and discipline. They must also consider the impact of data collection and use on public trust and police legitimacy.

The corresponding action item states:

3.3.1 ACTION ITEM: As part of the process for developing best practices, the U.S. Department of Justice should consult with civil rights and civil liberties organizations, as well as law enforcement research groups and other experts, concerning the constitutional issues that can arise as a result of the use of new technologies.

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