However, “[w]hen the police are given the discretion to publicly release favorable body camera footage but withhold negative footage, police body cameras become nothing more than a police propaganda tool,” the ACLU argues.
On November 19, 2020, a Black man named Kenneth Jones was removed from the back seat of a car and killed by White officers during a traffic stop in Omaha, Nebraska, that was captured on a body cam. “Cops claim the man had a gun and the struggle over that gun led to his death. But there’s reason to question that narrative. And that reason has been supplied by every government agency and law enforcement official denying access to that footage,” techdirt.com reports.
“Omaha Deputy City Attorney Bernard in den Bosch, while acknowledging that ‘in the State of Nebraska, body cam videos are probably public records’ nevertheless stated that ‘we have exercised our right to use the exception in the public records act to withhold them from public dissemination,’” reports the ACLU.
If the public is not allowed to view body cam footage, there is no accountability.
OPD Police Chief Todd Schmaderer publicly said he wanted to release the video but was afraid it was so inflammatory he feared it would taint any future jury pool.
That is not always the case. Body cam footage of Mesa City, Arizona, cop Philip “Mitch” Brailsford executing Daniel Shaver, who was on his knees in a motel hall, sobbing and begging for his life, was introduced at Brailsford’s 2017 murder trial. The jury hearing the case acquitted Brailsford of second-degree murder and reckless manslaughter charges despite viewing the body cam video.
The ACLU recommends adoption of a universal law requiring body cam video release whenever “a subject of the video footage is recording being killed, shot by a firearm, or grievously injured, [release of the footage] shall be prioritized and the requested video footage shall be provided as expeditiously as possible, but in no circumstances later than five (5) days following receipt of the request.”
In addition, “an unactivated body cam is of no use. [CLN, September 2020, p.22]. If no one reviews body-cam video, it is of no use as well. If there is no accountability, again it is of no use.” In other words, body cam use by cops is not a cure-all for potential police misconduct.
Body cams are here to stay. But they must stay activated at all times. They must be reviewed. Cops must be held accountable for conduct recorded of them, be it favorable or not, and must be freely disclosed to the public upon request.
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