Raleigh police officers shouldn’t be allowed to look at images captured by their body cameras before writing incident reports, national civil rights groups say.
The police officer’s report and the recorded video should be independent records of an incident, said the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the group Upturn. They released a scorecard on body camera policies for 75 police departments around the country.
“No department is getting this one right,” said Sakira Cook, senior counsel with the Leadership Conference.
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Body cameras have grown in popularity in the last few years as a way to record police officers’ interactions. Policies developed by states and cities determine how the cameras and their recordings are used.
The Leadership Conference is a coalition of more than 200 groups and is led by Vanita Gupta, who was head of the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice under former President Barack Obama. Upturn focuses on justice and technology.
The argument for allowing officers to watch the video is that it increases their accuracy, said Harlan Yu, executive director of Upturn. But the practice creates an “illusion of accuracy” and can taint what an officer remembers, he said.
“It undermines the independent evidentiary value of officer reports,” Yu said.
The Raleigh police department hasn’t started using body cameras yet, and its spokeswoman said in an email that the policy is not in its final form.
The police department began circulating its draft policy last summer and held meetings to gather citizen input.
“We continue to solicit feedback and encourage citizens to log on to the city’s website to review the draft,” spokeswoman Laura Hourigan wrote.
The policy says when officers will turn their cameras on and off, how the recordings will be stored, and who can view them. Under a controversial 2016 state law, a court order is required for public release of police body camera footage.
The report also faulted the Raleigh policy for not expressly limiting use of facial recognition technology in conjunction with video.
No departments are using face recognition technology with their body camera footage, but it’s coming, Yu said. Most departments do not have a policy on facial recognition.
“All the major vendors have talked publicly about the allure of adding face recognition technology together with camera systems,” he said. “Police departments also find that attractive. They want to use body-worn cameras as an investigative tool.”