The Boise, Idaho, police department issued its first 30 body cameras earlier this month and it expects to roll out 250 more cameras within a year. The cameras will be turned on during traffic stops, arrests and other active investigations. The department's 300 officers already carry audio recorders.
Seattle police completed a pilot project last year and expect to issue body cameras to its 640 officers later this year. Police in Spokane, as well as Bainbridge Island and Airway Heights already use the cameras.
In April, Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that will make available to the public footage from police body-cameras while limiting broad requests for the footage. Under the law, certain videos are presumed to be private, such as footage that was recorded in residences or that shows a child or a body. Such footage would be withheld unless the person making the request can demonstrate that the video is of legitimate public concern.
Body-worn cameras have been touted as an important tool for police accountability after a spate of high-profile police shootings across the country, including a fatal February police shooting in Seattle.
Che Andre Taylor, a felon under supervision by the state Department of Corrections, was shot after Seattle police say he did not follow commands and reached for a handgun as officers tried to arrest him with a prohibited weapon. Part of the incident was captured on patrol-car video, but the footage did not capture all of Taylor's actions. The shooting was followed by public protests and a call for the police chief to be fired. Had officers been wearing body cameras, police and the public may have had a clearer picture of what transpired, said Seattle's mayor.
The American Civil Liberties Union has created a model for legislation governing the use of body cameras. In part, it reads:
Should any law enforcement officer, employee or agent fail to adhere to the recording or retention requirements contained in this chapter, or intentionally interfere with a body camera's ability to accurately capture video footage:
- Appropriate disciplinary action shall be taken against the individual officer, employee or agent;
- A rebuttable evidentiary presumption shall be adopted in favor of criminal defendants who reasonably assert that exculpatory evidence was destroyed or not captured; and
- A rebuttable evidentiary presumption shall be adopted on behalf of civil plaintiffs suing the government, a law enforcement agency and/or law enforcement officers for damages based on police misconduct who reasonably assert that evidence supporting their claim was destroyed or not captured.
- The disciplinary action requirement and rebuttable presumptions ... may be overcome by contrary evidence or proof of exigent circumstances that made compliance impossible.
“In other words,”according to an article in The Washington Post, “if there should be video but isn't, courts will assume that this was intentional, and proceed accordingly. … There may be times when video was impossible for legitimate reasons. But I'd hope that couldn't be interpreted to include excuses like a technical malfunction or a dead battery. That may sometimes happen, but allowing it as an exception risks allowing it to” subvert the suggested legislation.
Regardless of whether police have video footage, every defendant has a right to representation by a qualified attorney. If you have been arrested and face criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.