Body cameras are an effective way to uphold police accountability while at the expense of the defendant. The Federal Police Camera and Accountability Act of 2018 requires uniformed federal police officers, including U.S. Capitol police, to wear body cameras and dashboard cameras in patrol vehicles.
What Does This Bill Say?
Legislation of this bill requires uniformed officers to have both the video and audio recording functions of the body camera activated whenever an officer is responding to a call for service or at the initiation of any other law enforcement or investigative encounter with a member of the public.
Uniformed officers with the authority to conduct searches and make arrests shall wear a body camera. Body cameras are expected to:
1) Have a field view of at least as broad as the officer’s vision; and
2) Be worn in a manner that maximizes the camera’s ability to capture video footage of the officer’s activities
Body cameras shall also not be deactivated until the encounter between the officer and the civilian has fully concluded and the uniformed officer leaves the scene.
Why Was This Bill Passed?
This bill was enacted in response to the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, a man who was fatally shot in his car by U.S Park Police officers after a vehicle pursuit on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The investigation found that the only footage captured was not from the initial dispatcher who responded to the scene; rather, a patrol car that had arrived subsequently. Without footage from the initial dispatcher, vital information was compromised – thus, posing extreme inaccuracies and possible fragmentations of officer testimonies that could potentially harm the justice served to Mr. Ghaisar and his family.
Is This Bill Still Active Today?
As of January 2021, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and Congressman Don Beyer plan to reintroduce the bill in response to the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Despite controversial views of such cameras being worn, it is essential in regard to the defendant’s case. Failure to require body cameras fails to hold police accountable while concurrently creating an even larger disconnect between police and the public.
With this bill, body-worn cameras are seen to increase transparency for individuals’ interactions with police, strengthen public trust, and even deter future criminal behavior.
Despite such positions, others would argue body cameras run the risk of breaching civilian privacy such as medical records. Others propose the possibility of such cameras being altered to fit face surveillance technology; posing a high risk to a dangerous, radical expansion of routinely misidentifying people of color and women.
More specifically, body worn cameras are of the utmost importance when officers respond to domestic violence calls. As the officer arrives at the scene, utilizing his/her body camera properly is crucial for gathering information immediately following the incident. This includes possible injuries to the victims as well as initial statements the victims provide that can later be tampered with or altered due to fear of prosecution or fear of further abuse from their partner. Whether the information shared is either beneficial or detrimental to the defendant, both are imperative for building a strong defense.
How Can Body Cameras Impact Consent Searches?
In the District of Columbia, emergency legislation was introduced that will expire on August 1, 2021. This bill states that in cases where a search is based solely on the individuals consent to that search, sworn members of the District Government law enforcement agencies, prior to the search of a person, vehicle, home or property, are required to:
- Explain using plain and simple language delivered in a calm demeanor, that the subject is asked to voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently consent to a search
- Advise the subject that:
- A search will not be conducted if the subject refuses to provide consent
- The subject has a legal right to decline to consent to the search
- Obtain consent to a search without administering threats or promises
- Confirm that the subject understands the information communicated by the officer
- Use appropriate services when attempting to seek consent from a person who:
- Cannot adequately understand or express themselves in spoken or written English
- Who is deaf or hard of hearing
Despite ongoing discussion around body worn cameras, such legislation fosters a greater sense of accountability and integrity from officers and other District government law enforcement personnel. In several instances, body worn cameras are the only means of obtaining footage or supportive evidence of one’s defense. Without them, our criminal justice system falls short of upholding equitable fairness for individuals charged or accused of a legal crime.