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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Zehnder

BWC Release and Critical Incidents... Again!

I recently came across yet another story of a law enforcement agency delaying the release of body camera footage in the aftermath of a critical incident in which an African American teenager was killed. The incident occurred over a month ago and the family has yet to be shown the video. I went to this agency’s website to see what their BWC policy said regarding release under such circumstances. Unfortunately, I could not find the policy on their site nor through a general online search. I then went to the state’s legislative site to look at the BWC statutes. In summary, it states that BWC recordings are releasable unless they meet a listed exemption. The first exemption is “Interfere with law enforcement proceedings”. I’ve seen this type of generalized, overly broad, language used before. States should require agencies that claim an exemption to provide a detailed reason for the exemption to a requestor in writing. I certainly don’t have all the facts in this specific case. However, I have seen repeated instances of agencies delaying release of video for extended periods of time under an “exemption” clause. This never bodes well for the agency. The agency loses control of the true narrative and looks like they have something to hide, regardless of whether there is officer or agency negligence. Further, the agency simply looks insensitive to the family by delaying them a viewing. I suspect this agency’s BWC policy has, as many agencies also do, a preamble stating that they believe that BWCs provide transparency and accountability.  Unfortunately, delaying release without justifiable cause makes these words ring hollow.

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