The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), with support from the Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ), released a report entitled, Policing Body Cameras: Policies and Procedures to Safeguard the Rights of the Accused. This report is the product of more than two years of careful research and deliberation, the organization reported in a press release.
In this report, NACDL endorses the continued and wider use of body cameras as long as they are implemented with NACDL’s policy recommendations, which are set forth below and in the report. With these protections in place, body cameras have the potential to better document encounters between police officers and civilians while mitigating competing concerns about their potential for misuse or abuse. The report and recommendations represent an important contribution to critical conversations and policymaking taking place throughout the country.
In response to a series of high-profile police killings of unarmed people of color, law enforcement agencies across the country began adopting body cameras as a solution to requests for more transparency and accountability. In order to study the impact of body cameras on the rights of the accused, NACDL established a body camera task force that comprised defense attorneys from across the country. The task force heard from a wide variety of experts, from law enforcement, the defense community, academics, technologists, and public interest groups, and studied academic reports and technical materials before compiling a list of 10 recommendations to protect the rights of the accused in body camera jurisdictions.
NACDL President and Co-Chair of NACDL’s Body Camera Task Force Barry J. Pollack said, “With this groundbreaking report, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers examines both the potential benefits of the use of body worn cameras and the considerable concerns presented by their use. NACDL’s report sets forth a comprehensive list of guidelines for the implementation and use of body worn cameras. It should be required reading for policy makers and police departments across the country.”
NACDL’s Senior Privacy and National Security Counsel Jumana Musa said, “NACDL understands that body cameras are not a panacea. They should be seen as one part of a much larger effort to overhaul a criminal justice system in desperate need of reform. Most importantly, body cameras should not be used with other technologies to increased police surveillance powers.”
The recommendations set forth in detail in this report will maximize cameras’ use in protecting the public and the police alike, and in generating reliable criminal justice outcomes. Those recommendations are summarized here:
- Clear and strictly enforced policies must establish when body cameras will be recording so that the decision of when to record is not left to the discretion of individual police officers.
- Video must be stored for a sufficient time to allow the accused to obtain evidence that is exculpatory or may lead to the discovery of exculpatory evidence.
- Arrested individuals and their attorneys must be given prompt access to all body camera video pertaining to a case.
- Policies must be crafted and equipment must be designed to minimize concerns with the misinterpretation of video.
- Police officers should not access body camera video before preparing their initial reports.
- Policies must prohibit the use of any biometric technologies in conjunction with body cameras.
- Video must not be later viewed to search for additional crimes or take other punitive action against an individual.
- Adequate resources must be available to ensure ongoing officer training on body camera use.
- Sufficient resources must be available to ensure that counsel are appropriately trained and that appointed counsel have adequate time and access to experts necessary to render effective assistance of counsel.
- An independent, non-police agency must retain and control access to body camera footage
In a press release, NACDL thanked the Foundation for Criminal Justice for its support of the task force and Joel M. Schumm, clinical professor of law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, for drafting the report.
The report is available at www.nacdl.org/policingbodycameras.