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Mayor’s Latest Proposal to Limit Body Camera Video Access Takes New Hit: Washington Post Says “More Openness is Warranted”

dcogcadmin | August 12, 2015

Public evaluation has begun of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s latest proposal for limited access to video from police body cameras, with press representatives, the D.C. police union, and now the Washington Post suggesting further work is needed, especially reconsidering a complete ban on release of any video taken anywhere a person has a “heightened expectation of privacy.”

The DC Open Government Coalition has obtained a copy (available at link below) of an August 6 memo from Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue to Judiciary Committee Chair Kenyan McDuffie sketching the new proposal, due to be published in mid-September.  Initial reactions were reported in Aaron Davis’s Washington Post story published Monday (10).  

Council Member McDuffie told the Post the new plan signaled “we are closer to an agreement” on camera policy, but didn’t spell out areas of concern for continued work. 

DC Fraternal Order of Police leader Delroy Burton urged “put on the camera. Let’s see. Let everyone see.”  And Katie Townsend of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press noted the group is “very hesitant” to allow D.C. to draw distinctions between public and private situations and to ban release of video in the latter. (DC has rejected two requests by the Reporters Committee for access to DC body camera video from a pilot test last fall.)  Police Chief Cathy Lanier earlier showed the D.C. Council a video with actors portraying a family and police answering a call to a domestic situation as an example of images that should remain private.

Today’s (12) Post editorial carefully noted the hard questions involved, praised police and the mayor for not ducking them, and welcomed the plan as an improvement, even with its limits and exceptions, on the blanket ban the mayor first proposed.

Even so, wrote the editors, the new plan still threatens to stifle the “potency” of the camera tool so it’s “perhaps not close enough” to a viable scheme for police accountability, especially with the “particularly worrisome” exemption prohibiting release of any video captured when officers are in private locations. 

Fortunately, the mayor’s plans will get further public airing. A proposed regulation with full details will be published in mid-September and also sent to the Council for possible hearings. The Council has a 45-day period to act, otherwise the proposal expires. Deputy Mayor Donahue noted that the prompt purchase of cameras with new funds available October 1 will be aided if the Council acts quickly, holding any hearing soon after the Council returns from its summer recess.

The Open Government Coalition has previously urged that body camera video be generally available under the existing D.C. Freedom of Information Act that has ample exemptions to protect portions involving privacy concerns and certain police details. Detailed information on laws being considered nationwide on the subject is available on the Coalition website.

See link below for text of mayor’s office August 6 memo to Council.