DC patrol officers to get body cameras under new law

- D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed legislation that will equip 2,800 patrol officers with body cameras by next summer.

Just after noon Wednesday, Bowser signed into law a bill that will put a digital camera on the chest of all patrol officers in the city. It is a very different bill than the one Bowser first proposed. She initially wanted to keep the entire recorded footage private.

Under the new law, the recorded footage will be viewable to some within 48 hours and to others within 28 days.

"The District is setting a new best practice by allowing any subject of a body camera recording the ability to go to their local police station and review their body camera footage,” said Mayor Bowser. 

For example, if you are stopped and recorded by the police and you want to see that interaction, you can go to any station in the city and view the video.

"If on the footage there are other subjects or concerns about witnesses or other individuals the police will factor that in to try and focus on their interaction, but they can view the video,” said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue.

You will not be allowed to record the video on your own cellphone or camera, but you can get a copy of the video after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

Officers who wear the cameras will turn them on as soon as they begin an interaction with the public, but anything shot inside a home or classified as a sexual assault or stalking will not be made public unless the mayor determines it is in the best interest of the public to release it.

"In matters of great public interest, such as officer-involved shootings or use of force, as mayor, I have the authority to release body camera footage to the public even if that footage would not otherwise be subject to FOIA,” Mayor Bowser said.

In recent weeks, Bowser released footage from two cameras worn by officers responding to an incident in Southeast D.C. where special police officers had Alonzo Smith in custody in the hallway of an apartment building. The video was redacted, so faces were unidentifiable, but you could hear everything that was said.

Smith later died. His death has been ruled a homicide, but no charges have been filed.

"I think it is important to note though that these cameras are not a panacea designed to address all of the issues that have historically existed in communities of color in terms of the mistrust of law enforcement. It is a tool. It is a 21st century policing tool that will help law enforcement against false complaints by the public, but will also help the public in terms of transparency and accountability,” said Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.

The law will allow officers to view footage from their cameras before writing reports except in cases where there has been a police-involved shooting.

Approximately 400 officers have already been using the cameras as part of a pilot program.
 

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