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D.C. Council to Vote on Public Access to Police Video; Coalition Warns One Remaining Overbroad Exemption for “Residential” Video, If Passed, Should Be Subject to A “Sunset” Provision

dcogcadmin | December 1, 2015

UPDATE: At the bill’s first reading December 1, 2015, the D.C. Council passed the police body camera proposal, discussed below, as presented (without amendments).

D.C. police may get the first green light for the proposed body camera program this Tuesday (1) when the D.C. Council takes up compromise legislation allowing public access and lifting many but not all restrictions.

Calling it much improved from the total secrecy plans first proposed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser in April and the modified ban outlined in September, the Coalition today (30) wrote all Council members with praise for the leadership of Judiciary Committee chair Kenyan McDuffie and offering final recommendations.

The Coalition called for deleting one blanket exemption that survived, prohibiting release of any video shot “inside a personal residence.”  

Existing law already requires agencies to weigh privacy concerns and deny records whose release would be an “unwarranted” invasion–which may be much of the time, such as uneventful police runs to resolve routine domestic situations.  In contrast, a blanket residential video exemption, said the Coalition, prevents release even in highly unusual situations such as use of deadly force by a civilian or officer, where there is an overriding public interest in the video record showing what happened.

According to the Coalition, one of many open government advocacy groups nationwide, experience with police body cameras is slim and fears about the resulting video and public access are based on guesswork rather than facts.

Therefore, if the blanket ban on release of video taken inside a residence is not removed by an amendment during the Council’s two readings of the bill, the Coalition asked the Council to make the legislation effective for two years only.

“Sunsetting these new provisions two years from the bill’s enactment,” said the Coalition letter, “would require all stakeholders, including the Mayor and MPD, to re-evaluate their utility and update the law based on experience, rather than conjecture, to better protect personal privacy and maximize transparency.”

The legislation is Bill 21-0351. A copy of the Coalition letter may be accessed using the link below.