Bowser administration wants to keep police body camera footage exempt from FOIA requests

A member of the D.C. Council is questioning plans by the Bowser Administration to keep all footage shot by D.C. police body cameras private.

The plan by Mayor Muriel Bowser's office to keep all body camera footage private first surfaced in language in her Budget Support Act.

If passed, it would keep the public and the news media from being able to request selected footage recorded by police under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to a senior member of the Bowser administration, the plan to keep all footage in control of the D.C. Police Department is geared toward the privacy of individuals and their personal information that might be captured by the camera.

In effect, the video would be treated as evidence and would be released on a case-by-case basis.

According to the official, blurring information like license plates, phone numbers, email addresses, documents or anything private that the cameras can record would be an onerous and unsustainable process.

This plan concerns Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Although he says can see both sides of the issue, he is on the fence about what should be releasable to the public and will hold a hearing on the plan.

"I am concerned because I am a huge proponent of enhancing the accountability and transparency when it comes to law enforcement, and it's my understanding that was part of the reason why the body camera pilot program was rolled out by MPD," said McDuffie. "And in the same breath where you want to increase transparency and improve accountability, we shouldn't be putting in place blanket exemptions to Freedom of Information requests."

He added, "I'm not on the record of opposing this, but I am on the record of essentially saying that at this current time, there are more questions than answers."

McDuffie said he will hold hearings in hopes of getting all sides of the issue.

The mayor's office wants to grow the body camera program from a million dollar pilot project to a $5.1 million program with 2,800 cameras.

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