Stop Police from Withholding Body Camera Footage

Why We Must Stop Police from Withholding Body Camera Footage

A new standard operating procedure requiring MPD to publicly release police video footage within 15 days of deaths by police and other critical incidents was established on April 20th, just days after Milwaukee Police finally released body camera footage of a fatal police shooting that had occurred two months earlier. The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission is the civilian oversight body that oversees MPD and the Milwaukee Fire Department. It was established to provide oversight of MPD. The Milwaukee Police Association (MPA), the union that represents the majority of the city’s officers, filed a lawsuit the very next day, and has thus far been successful in preventing the new 15-day video release policy from taking effect.

Justifying their lawsuit, MPA stated in a press release that the FPC did not “consider the impact on officers they oversee.” Community activists want access to body cams because they are frequently the only source of evidence that provides a clear and unbiased picture of police and civilian encounters, as demonstrated by Maria Hamilton, who lost her son Dontre to police violence.

When used responsibly, body cam footage increases transparency in the wake of police shootings and reduces our reliance on the frequently skewed, inaccurate portrayals offered by police departments. Body cam footage that was initially withheld from the public was completely at odds with the initial police report that described Tyre Nichols’ death by the Memphis Police Department. Nichols was named as a suspect in an aggravated assault in the initial police report, which also accused him of engaging in physical altercation with officers and snatching one of their firearms. Nichols was not mentioned as having been beaten to death, and even an officer who was later charged with murder was referred to as a victim. For nearly a month, the city of Memphis and the Memphis Police Department withheld this video while smearing Nichols’ reputation with false police reports. The body camera footage allowed us to learn what actually happened to Nichols, disproving the false narrative created by the police.

Video evidence has previously shown that police reports about the circumstances leading up to a civilian killing were false. This incident is not the only example of this. At least 16 officers covered up the killing of Chicago teen LaQuan McDonald by falsifying the police report, throwing away evidence, and trying to discredit McDonald. If the entire incident hadn’t been captured on the dash cam, the public would not have known the truth about McDonald’s death.

The body cam footage from the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department wasn’t released to the public until August 10, 2020. The initial police report for Floyd’s killing stated he simply died of “medical distress” and does not mention that the medical distress was brought on by an officer kneeling on Floyd was having seizures and wailing for assistance as it happened, around his neck. The closest the general public can get to knowing the truth of a fatal encounter is by watching video footage. The community will become even more distrustful if the footage is kept hidden.

In order to give officers time to develop an explanation for the incident, some police departments permit officers to review the video of the killing or use of force before writing their report. In order to create compelling narratives following high-profile incidents, police departments across the nation, including those in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and other major cities, invest a significant amount of money in public relations professionals. Police are able to influence public opinion and shield themselves from responsibility by suppressing video. What other suspect is given the freedom to examine the evidence, determine what the public sees, and have a team of experts shape the narrative surrounding their crime?

Body cam footage is essential to ensuring law enforcement are transparent and accountable to the public because it is impossible to trust police to be truthful about situations in which officers use force. Police lose public support without being held accountable. We can see it happening right now: a Gallup poll conducted in 2022 revealed that only 45% of American adults have faith in the police. The figures for communities of color are even lower.

This brings us full circle to the reason why Milwaukee community activists are pushing for increased police transparency: Black and Brown communities have long known that police reports don’t always accurately reflect reality, and now empirical evidence is catching up. The FPC’s new body camera policy would make it possible for people to get more answers because too often, after a police encounter, we are left in the dark and with a lot of unanswered questions.

Read More: How Long Do Security Cameras Keep Footage?

Source: aclu-wi

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