Civil rights groups say police body cameras violate rights

Civil rights groups say watching body camera video before writing an official report for an incident could violate civil liberties.


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – Police departments around the country are now equipping themselves with body cameras to provide another look at what is happening at the scene.

“It gives us a removed perspective of what’s going on,” said Newport News Sergeant Perry Bartels.

Bartels says cameras have been a great addition, but we have to remember what they are.

“I think the body cameras are a tool just like any other piece of evidence,” Bartels added.  “It is essentially a witness.”

Most police departments that have body cameras allow officers to watch the video before writing a report.

However now the civil rights group The Leadership Conference, and non-profit group Upturn, say watching the video first could violate civil liberties.

“It is important to capture an officer’s independent perspective,” said Harlan Yu, Upturn’s executive director.

The groups feel that if an officer watches the video before writing the report, the officer’s memory of the event could be altered.

That officer would then put that altered version into the report.  That could cause an issue when the case goes to court, because we wouldn’t know what the officer was perceiving when he or she was on that call.

“Officers should be judged on their actions and what they perceive, not necessarily what is perceived in the footage itself,” Yu added.

The group is asking for two reports:  One written before seeing the footage and another after.  Yu says his group is working with city councils and police departments to come up with uniform standards.

“I can’t necessarily agree that this alone is violating anybody’s rights,” Bartels said.

Bartels says most officers now will write reports without watching the video.  He tells 10 On Your Side as technology is changing, so is the way it is being used in court, and departments are waiting for guidance.

“Until that happens, you have agencies across the country disagreeing on whether or not officers should be able to watch a video prior to writing a report,” Bartels added.

10 On Your Side checked to see what local police departments that have body cameras are doing.  Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Suffolk, Isle of Wight County and York-Poquoson all say the officers have the option to review video before writing the report.