DC says releasing police body camera footage would come with challenge of blurring faces, protecting

The debate is underway in D.C. over making footage from police body cameras public.

City officials say a big challenge is blurring out certain images which they view as private.

The proposal by the mayor's office to keep all footage private is meeting resistance with the president of the D.C. Police Union as well as several government watchdog groups.

City officials say the process of keeping private information private would be very difficult.

However, D.C. Police have released - with faces and private information blurred - footage from two actual traffic stops.

One is just over four minutes long and the other goes on for more than 9 minutes.

In both, the viewer can hear the officers interacting with the drivers but the drivers face and personal information is never shown.

Both videos appear to be unedited and good examples of what the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press believe could be the norm if city leaders agree to let the public, through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), see what the cameras are recording.

"All FOIA requests are burdensome, right? Whether its paper documents you are requesting, audio, or video. It always involves a burden but we as a society have determined that it's worth it to us as citizens to be informed on what its government is doing," Adam Marshall, with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has already requested, through FOIA, a number of body camera videos and have been turned down.

An appeal is now pending.

When pressed, the police department and officials with the mayor's office site the burden of blurring private information and innocent individuals who may appear in the footage.

But in one of those videos released by MPD, the face of a panhandler asking a cop for money is blurred during an on-going conversation.

"I think anyone who has seen Cops knows that you can make those redactions and we've been able to do so for decades--these programs are widely available and very affordable," said Marshall.

FOX 5's Paul Wagner demonstrated the process on the editing equipment used at FOX 5 every day to blur faces and other information. City officials have given the impression that blurring private information in police body camera footage is an onerous process, Wagner said. With the help of an editor, Wagner showed that in just about 5 minutes they were able to blur the name of the company on the side of a truck – an example similar to what editors might encounter with police body camera video.

The president of D.C. Police union has come out in favor of making the footage public and council member Kenyan McDuffie says he plans to hold a hearing on the issue.

The mayor is asking the D.C. City Council for the money - about $5 million dollars - to purchase 2800 body cameras and expand the pilot program from where it is today.

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