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Should police departments control access to body cam videos?

Over the past few years, more police departments have embraced the use of body cameras which create video footage of encounters with the public. The interest in these devices is ostensibly based on the public’s desire to have more accountability with policing. However, the growing trend is that such footage is only being used to protect police officers from liability.

A number of media reports have chronicled the difficulties with obtaining such footage when an officer could be held liable for wrongdoing (commonly excessive force claims). A recent npr.com report highlighted the roadblocks an attorney defending a criminal charge encountered when requesting body cam video. At the same time, footage is readily available to prove when officers are performing heroic acts or members of the public are obviously belligerent or committing crimes. 

This begs the question of whether police departments should exclusively control access to body cam footage. After all, public trust in police departments becomes frayed when paltry excuses are used to deny access to potentially incriminating videos. Also, there are no uniform rules that departments follow regarding their release, and there are no technological limitations that prevent departments from having a third party hold (and release) video footage.

The difficulties in obtaining body cam video exemplify the need to have an experienced criminal defense attorney in criminal cases. A skilled lawyer can make compelling legal arguments supporting such releases, which could be very helpful in supporting one’s defense.

If you have questions about how an officer’s body cam video can be obtained in your case, a criminal defense attorney can help. 

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