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Civil Rights Groups Warn of Misuse of Police Camera Footage

A new report assessing the use of body cameras raises concerns that police departments could misuse the video footage.  As ideastream’s Mark Urycki reports, police departments in Akron, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland are among those distributing body cameras to its officers.  



Civil rights organizations The Leadership Conference and Upturn have issued a scorecard measuring 8 concerns about body cameras and not many departments meet their standards. 

The report states:

  • "Only 4 out of 75 of departments expressly allow people who are filing police misconduct complaints to view all relevant footage.
  • Only 7 out of 75 departments place any limits on the use of facial recognition together with their camera systems.
  • No department reviewed requires its officers to alwayswrite incident reports before watching relevant footage. Only 13 out of 75 departments place any restrictions on officer review of footage, primarily after serious use-of-force incidents.
  • Only 11 out of 75 departments delete unneeded footage within six months of recording.
  • Since the last scorecard release in August 2016, 51 percent (26) departments did not have any score changes, 35 percent (18) had minor improvements, and 14 percent (7) actually made their policies worse."

Cincinnati scores well for allowing citizens access to the footage but no city scores well for restricting officers from seeing that footage before they write their reports.  


“This is one of the most important benchmarks in our scorecard" says Vanita Gupta.  "And unfortunately is also one that most departments are failing to properly address.”

Gupta helped craft the Cleveland police consent decree for the U-S Department of Justice.  She’s now with the Leadership Conference which argues that officers should write their reports first from memory without seeing video footage that may be misleading. 

One example cited is a Florida case where police are heard yelling “stop resisting” on a shaky video. Viewers might think the suspect was resisting arrest.

But a public surveillance camera captured the whole scene:  5 officers beating a man who had already surrendered.

Cleveland police spokesman, Detective Reginald Lanton says allowing officers to view the tape before writing their reports is important to help them remember details for incidents that may have occurred hours earlier.   Lanton says – quote -- “the footage is the truth.”

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