Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the new body cameras will enhance both officers' and the public's safety and make investigations more efficient. (Courtesy photo)
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the new body cameras will enhance both officers' and the public's safety and make investigations more efficient. (Courtesy photo)

The most expansive body-worn camera program in the nation could go into effect in the District as early as the first week of December.

After eight months of extensive public and stakeholder input, the committee on the Judiciary passed Bill 21-0351, the Body-Worn Camera Program Amendment Act of 2015, on Thursday, Nov. 19.

Following the committee’s vote, the bill will go to the full council for the first of two votes on Dec. 1.

“Our ultimate goal is to institutionalize the community policing model in our law enforcement agencies in an effort to build trust and accountability,” Chairman of the Judiciary Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) said.

The proposal prioritizes public access to recordings, requires ongoing analysis and auditing of the program by oversight agencies and researchers and protects the privacy of individuals in their homes. This also covers victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

“We are striking a balance between government transparency and preserving privacy,” McDuffie said.

The proposal, in conjunction with existing Metropolitan Police Department policies and procedures, allows broad access for recordings by providing the release of most footage recorded in public space through the District’s Freedom of Information Act.

It will allow subjects of recordings and individuals alleging officer misconduct to view the recordings at the police station in the district in which the incident occurred, provided that the recording doesn’t violate the privacy rights of any other subject.

Unrestricted access will be provided to law enforcement agencies and the District’s police oversight body, the Office of Police Complaints.

The proposal features built-in safe guards such as requiring officers to provide a written justification when recordings are deleted or for a failure to record a required event, prohibits officers from reviewing recordings when writing their initial reports and sets a 90-day limit for retaining most recordings when there’s no incident or arrest.

The protection of individual rights remains a pivotal point in the proposal.

There will be disclosure of footage of assaults except footage recorded in a private residence or that involving domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Recording at or in close proximity to schools will be prohibited when officers are engaged in non-critical contacts.

First Amendment assembly recordings will be permitted, but not for the purpose of identifying or recording lawful activity, and officers are required to inform subjects that they are being recorded.

Police officers will have their own measure of protection included in the proposal such as discretion on when or how to record in sensitive situations.

It ensures that officers are properly trained on the use of the cameras prior to distribution and allows the executive to provide body-worn cameras for 2,800 officers – one of the largest programs in the country.

There will be a process of evaluation including the mayor’s engaging academic institutions and organizations to analyze the program, creating report requirements on the costs of redacting footage as the program moves forward and ensuring that investigatory agencies, such as the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of the D.C. Auditor, can obtain recordings.

“We have come a long way from the original plan, and this bill is a big win for both residents and law enforcement,” McDuffie said. “I am grateful for the dedicated stakeholders who provided invaluable input and helped the Council and the Executive put forward this compromise proposal.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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