D.C. Police Chief, Transparency Advocates Debate Access to Police Camera Footage

Almost all D.C. police will soon be wearing body cameras, but what to do with all that video is now the center of debate between city officials and transparency advocates.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Mayor Muriel Bowser say they want to exempt the footage from Freedom of Information Act requests, which allow the public to request government records. 

Mayor Bowser included an exemption for all FOIA requests on police camera footage in her 2016 budget proposal. The budget proposal includes $5.1 million to increase the number of body cameras police officers wear on patrol.

The mayor and police chief say publicizing some police camera footage would endanger the privacy of victims who call police.

But city officials and others said the transparency benefits outweigh any privacy implications of releasing the footage to the public. 

"If you're talking about improving transparency and accountability in policing, then you can't move forward with a blanket FOIA exemption," said Kenyan McDuffie, Chairman of the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee.

Many police officers also support the use of body cameras for the potential to exonerate officers who are accused of misconduct.


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The D.C. Police Union says it supports body cameras as a way to increase transparency and wants to make the footage available.

"I think the public good outweighs any privacy concerns that they seem to have with the video," DC Police Union Chairman Delroy Burton said Thursday.

Despite the proposed exemption to FOIA requests, Chief Lanier said unredacted footage would be available to "agencies and individuals who are tasked by government with holding police accountable."

Chief Lanier said Thursday that anyone who reports being the victim of police misconduct will have access as well. 

But groups like the American Civil Liberties Union say the proposal would be like the police policing themselves.

"That does not give trust for the public," said Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, Executive Director of the ACLU of the Nation's Capital.

Chief Lanier also said time and cost would make it difficult to comply with FOIA requests for police camera footage. She said it would take extra time to blur videos to protect the privacy of people caught on camera. 

About 160 D.C. police officers began wearing cameras last year as part of a pilot program. Lanier said she plans to add more cameras each year until almost all officers are wearing them. 

News4 is one of the organizations opposing the blanket FOIA exemption. 

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