Who Gets to See Police Body Camera Footage?

Our Hollywood and West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know that law enforcement departments all across the country are adopting use of body cameras as a means by which to combat the tension stirring between police officers and the communities they patrol.
With police wear body cameras, advocates argue, people will get to see exactly how a police-civilian interaction went; this will both hold police officers accountable and protect them from frivolous accusations of misconduct.

One thorny problem, though, is who gets to see what the body cameras capture? What if it’s your arrest or altercation that’s filmed, and what if that footage is circulated on the Internet?

The issue at hand is serious. What if there is a misunderstanding between you and a police officer, a misunderstanding which results in your humiliating arrest? Or, even more troublesome, what if you happen to be caught (perhaps doing something embarrassing) in the background of a police-related incident being filmed by a police body cam? What if that video is aired on television by local news outlets for one reason or another, or uploaded to the Internet? As our Hollywood and West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know, the consequences are obvious; depending on your role in the video, and what you were filmed doing, your reputation could be seriously jeopardized in the eyes of family, friends, employers, potential future employers, etc.

So, who does get to see the video captured by police body cams? The answer to the question is frustrating: it depends. For instance, a piece of legislation pending in our neighbor to the north, Georgia, would allow police to release recordings to only those involved in the video-taped incident or to someone who filed a relevant complaint. Meanwhile, across the country, lawmakers in Oregon are contemplating only allowing videos to be released if they’re part of court proceedings — or if the videos depict use of force by police officers.

At the same time, Seattle puts most of the video captured by their police body cameras on the Internet, on YouTube, but blurs the screen, leaving people in the videos unidentifiable; that said, as our Hollywood and West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers know, in this technology-driven world, computer wizards could easily work with a blurred video to make the images crisper.

Here in Florida, the Seattle Police Department has — for now — halted its body camera program after a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida sued over the outrageous cost of obtaining footage. According to the New York Times, the city announced that it would charge individuals and organizations $18,000 for 84 hours of police body cam video to be placed on DVDs; that’s about $214 an hour of video. In essence, Sarasota has restricted the ability to view police video footage to those who can afford $18,000 for 84 hours of video — the very, very wealthy.

With all of these measures geared at keeping the lid on filmed police interactions, one must consider the point of the body cameras in the first place: transparency. What good are the cameras if their filmed content is kept secret? At the same time, though, how should police departments release the videos while still being able to protect individuals caught on camera, directly or indirectly?

If you have any questions about this criminal defense and law enforcement issue, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact our Hollywood and West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to assisting you.

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