D.C. council member seeks rules to make police body-cam footage public

WASHINGTON — A showdown is looming in the District over the use of police body-worn cameras and the question of whether the cameras’ video should be made public.

A D.C. Council public hearing Thursday will help lawmakers decide on policies for the cameras’ use, and whether money should be devoted to expand what is now just a pilot program.

Kenyan McDuffie, the chairman of the council’s Judiciary Committee, tells WTOP he believes the footage should be public, saying it’s a matter of transparency and accountability.

McDuffie says he supports the use of body cameras, believing their footage keeps officers accountable and also provides evidence against false complaints of brutality and misconduct. But not making footage public, “undermines the very accountability we seek to achieve.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget request includes $5.1 million to outfit the police with body cameras, but also has language that exempts such footage from Freedom of Information Act requests.

McDuffie adds that all FOIA requests for footage during the pilot program have been “summarily denied.”

During D.C.’s pilot program, some officers wearing the cameras have been disciplined, Police Chief Cathy Lanier tells The Washington Post. But no video footage, or information about what the videos depict, has been made public.

“All you have to do is look around the country,” McDuffie tells WTOP, referring to recent events in Baltimore; Ferguson, Missouri; and New York City, to see that police accountability and community relations are critical issues, and that body cameras can be “a tool to [achieve] that.”

McDuffie says that steps such as posting footage with faces blurred out is another possibility, and is looking for other implementation ideas.

“That’s why I’ve called for this hearing — I felt we were rushing to implement a very important program.”

The hearing will include testimony from the public, expert witnesses and research McDuffie has compiled. He says he’ll draft his own body-camera budget request, hoping it will replace Bowser’s.

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