D.C. works to balance privacy, transparency with police body cameras

WASHINGTON — As D.C. moves closer to fitting police officers with body cameras, questions remain about what footage would be available to the public.

A council hearing Wednesday examined three different bills related to police body cameras.

The chief concern to surface involved what footage would be subject to a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Who gets access to this information and when do they get it inside the constructs of an investigation?” asked David Grosso, D.C. Council member at-large.

The current plan exempts assaults and footage recorded in homes from FOIA requests.

“The interactions recorded in their private residence or other places where a person has a heightened expectation of privacy, we believe in providing maximum protection to those individuals,” said Kevin Donahue, the deputy city administrator.

A person directly involved in one of the FOIA-exempt situations could choose to allow footage to be released. Also, the mayor could release footage of great public interest, even if it falls under one of the protected categories.

Still, some see the bills as murky and not fully transparent about what the police body cameras record.

“I think what the executive is trying to do here is to make a carve-out in a way that will create a whole area that is exempt from discovery, and I think the council should reject that,” says Delroy Burton, chairman of the police union.

D.C. police officers are set to begin using body cameras in 2016.

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