ACLU of Mississippi calling for standardized body cam guidelines for police

ACLU of Mississippi calling for standardized body cam guidelines for police
The Biloxi Police Department's policy states that officers should turn on their body camera, when practical, after arriving at an active scene, as long as the officer's safety is not compromised. (Photo source: WLOX)

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi is calling for a statewide policy to standardize the rules for the use of police body cameras. The group says it wants to improve transparency and accountability in all situations to promote trust between police and the community.

"We had a situation that happened a few years ago in Columbus, where there was a young man killed by police officer. The officers who were responding to that encounter, they all had body cams and did not turn on," explained Zakiya Summers with the ACLU of Mississippi. "What we found was that the policies lack provisions for transparency, accountability, taking into account privacy rights. They're just very inconsistent from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."

Summers said the ACLU sent requests to view those policies for 147 law enforcement agencies across the state. Of those, 65 replied, including the Biloxi Police Department.

Major Chris Deback with Biloxi PD said his department shared its policy for the sake of transparency.

"If we're dealing with a person who may escalate the situation, we're required to have it on," Deback said.

Biloxi's policy states that officers should turn on their body camera, when practical, after arriving at an active scene, as long as the officer's safety is not compromised. Failure to initiate a recording system may be considered grounds for disciplinary action.

But body cam usage policies are different from one police department to another. For instance, the policy in Columbus states that officers can view footage from the body cam before writing a police report.

"To us, that's a huge issue because you could skew what you're putting on your incident report," Summers said.

The ACLU's final report gives three policy guidelines for Mississippi lawmakers to consider:

  1. Enact legislation that assures policies governing BWCs are uniform across Mississippi in each of four key areas: when and how they are activated by officers; how long the data they collect is kept; who has access to the data collected; and consequences of failure to comply with law or policy regarding their use.
  2. Enact legislation assuring Mississippians that violations of federal and state laws and departmental policies governing the use of BWCs do not result in harm to individuals.
  3. Enact legislation ensuring that personally identifiable data collected by BWCs is not disseminated to third parties for non-law enforcement purposes without the subject’s consent, except where such public disclosure is categorically determined to be in the public interest.

Read the full report, "Striking the Right Balance: An Analysis of Body-worn Camera Policies in Mississippi": http://bit.ly/2CR7i4G 

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