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Coalitions Call for WMATA to Make Rules in the Sunshine for Police Body-Cam Video

Fritz Mulhauser | July 15, 2022 | Last modified: July 18, 2022

UPDATE 7-18-22: D.C. Council member Charles Allen has asked Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Anzallo to provide a copy of completed procedures for new body-worn cameras. Allen specifically mentioned setting “clear standards for determining when footage should be reviewed and released to the public” and asked the chief to “provide members of the public – particularly District residents and interested stakeholders – with meaningful opportunities to provide input on, learn about, and engage with draft policies.” The requests came in a letter to the chief today (18).

D.C. and Virginia open government coalitions sent a letter today (15) asking the WMATA board of directors, interim CEO, and Riders’ Advisory Council for an “open and full-blown public-engagement process” before Transit Police begin using body-worn cameras. Rules for the use of the new cameras, due next year, are under development but not yet available.

Earlier blog post describing the WMATA announcement and the history of Coalition advocacy to gain public access to D.C. police video is here. Justin George wrote the Washington Post‘s account.

The letter noted the groups have been unsuccessful in public records requests to both WMATA and U.S. Department of Justice which also gets to review the rules as it’s funding the camera purchase with a grant of almost a million dollars. The D.C. Coalition has asked D.C. Council members to request the rules also.

“The process WMATA has embarked on, involving extensive in-house development followed by federal sponsor review, but lacking a wide range of expert and consumer perspectives, is inefficient and almost certainly will not achieve your stated [transparency] goals. By the time you get to the “public outreach” stage, WMATA staff will have invested much time and effort in their proposed policies and the time until “rollout” will be short. By that point, changes proposed by members of the public that would better serve the public interest, even minor changes, will meet significant internal resistance. That result would be a disservice to WMATA and to the public.”

Thomas M. Susman, President, D.C. Open Government Coalition
Megan Rhyne, Executive Director, Virginia Coalition for Open Government
Letter to WMATA, July 15, 2022

The groups called on WMATA to publish draft policies and hold one or more public hearings before deciding on the rules, to benefit from a wide range of expert and consumer perspectives, such as transit riders, police and civic organizations, attorneys, news media, and criminal justice researchers, all engaged with the board in a public-facing dialogue. 

“We believe,” said Thomas Susman and Megan Rhyne who head D.C. and Virginia open government coalitions, “that if WMATA engages in an open, public, and evidence-based process, the policies it adopts will produce transparency, enhance public confidence, and protect legitimate public safety and privacy concerns.”

“The past several years have repeatedly shown, particularly in cases where force was used against civilians, that withholding BWC footage sows distrust and frustrates public demands for police accountability. Almost inevitably, video comes out anyway, captured by other bystanders, and the delay in producing BWC video only makes it appear that law enforcement has something to hide. But robust access also can protect officers who do behave properly (for instance, by putting to rest false allegations). We urge WMATA to consider these lessons learned.”

July 15, 2022 letter to WMATA.

The groups also asked to meet with the Riders’ Advisory Council and present the case for that group to join in asking the WMATA board for full public review and input on the body-worn camera rules.