DC councilmember wants police body camera footage made available to public

The D.C. Council is holding a hearing this week on police body cameras.

Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said after talking with a number of groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police, now believes that the footage recorded by police body cameras must be open to the public and he will counter the mayor's proposal with language of his own. What that language will be is still to be determined.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Cathy Lanier have both said the footage from the cameras should be exempt from public records law because of privacy concerns and the burden of blurring parts of the video if it is released to the public.

Chief Lanier again stated her opinion on the issue on Monday at the Wilson Building.

"Involved parties absolutely, positively should have access to those videos," she said. "I think there is a group of folks who should have access to videos. I don't think the body worn camera video should be [available] freely … to be given to people with no interest because there is a lot of privacy concerns, obviously when a police officer is in a person's home or on official police business, everybody in that video has a stake in privacy."

But after investigating the issue, McDuffie said he is convinced the video should be made public.

"We need to have clear language that clearly lays out who is going to have access, when they will have access and not simply having a blanket exemption to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act)," said McDuffie. "It undermines the very transparency that you want to achieve by implementing a body camera program."

In the Budget Support Act, the mayor has asked the city council to approve expanding the pilot program to a permanent program that would outfit nearly every officer on the force. It is a program with a price tag of over $5 million.

"If there are matters of great public interest, then we should be able to know who is going to be able to access it," McDuffie said. "If there are people who are involved in crimes or victims of assault or sexual abuse, then we should be able to know when the footage will be available to the public.

"We want to be able to protect those individuals. We want to protect our underage youth who might be captured on a law enforcement body camera. So we want to be able lay out clearly what the language will be and not simply move forward in haste where a blanket exemption to our Freedom of Information Act laws.

D.C. police have already shown in actual traffic stops that were captured on body cameras and released to the public that privacy information can be redacted by blurring faces and other information.

The roundtable hearing on body cameras will be held Thursday at the Wilson Building.

McDuffie said he will take the information provided at the hearing and write legislation that will have to be passed by the full council.

As it stands now, D.C. police have only released video by its officers to defense attorneys and prosecutors. The department has so far denied all FOIA requests.