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ACLU Releases Detailed Best Practices for Police Body Cameras

Date: 2015-05-21
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Recommended Policies Can Be Adopted by State Legislatures, Local Governments, and Police Departments


On May 21st, the American Civil Liberties Union released a detailed set of recommended policies for the use of police body cameras.  The proposed rules are in the form of a model bill that can be adopted by state legislatures, local governments, and police departments.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, several senators requested this type of model legislation, which is the first of its kind.  “Policymakers nationwide have been asking for a plug-and-play model policy that shows them how to best balance the promotion of police accountability with the protection of privacy,” said Chad Marlow, ACLU advocacy and policy counsel. “This is precisely what the ACLU is offering them today.”

Under the model, videos would have a short default retention period of three months, followed by automatic deletion. Certain videos — including ones showing the use of force, commission of a felony, events leading up to an arrest for a felony, or an encounter that resulted in a civilian complaint — would be retained for three years. Whether or not videos are available for public release is based on the same criteria.

Strict rules would control when officers must turn their cameras on and off. Officers would not be allowed to watch footage before filing initial reports about an incident, because viewing videos may influence officers’ recollections or enable officers to adjust reports to what was or was not recorded.

The proposal also includes privacy exceptions for filming. Crime victims, anonymous crime tipsters, and people who are inside a home when there is no warrant or emergency have the right to request that cameras be turned off.

Several police departments have instituted policies, but the ACLU says they are all lacking in some area.  “Seattle’s pilot program has strong rules governing when body cameras should be used, but it falls short in allowing police officers to review video footage before filing reports and lacks penalties for breaking the rules,” said Marlow. “The Los Angeles Police Department’s policy is good on officer discretion, but undercuts transparency by withholding most of the footage from the public.”

The model bill is at:

A blog post by ACLU’s Chad Marlow on the topic is at:

A January 2015 article from PoliceOne, “Body-worn cameras: Benefits and best practices for police” is at:

For information on a 2014 Publication “Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program: Recommendations and Lessons Learned” from the Dept. of Justice/Office of Community Oriented Policing Services:

- People, Places & Things/ (ACLU, 5/21/15)


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