• DC Council Moves To Cut Funding For Police Body Camera Initiative

    Members of the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary recommended Tuesday that funding for the expansion of body cameras for police officers be cut by nearly two-thirds, citing worries about the program’s roll out.

    In a report released by the committee’s chairman, Kenyan McDuffie, he said the Metropolitan Police Department is “not logistically prepared” to equip every officer on the force with a camera and the lack of regulatory boundaries made a full roll out unnecessary.

    Instead, the committee proposed a majorly scaled-back program that would consist of 1,200 cameras and cost just over $1.9 million. Mayor Muriel Bowser had originally proposed to add 2,400 cameras at a cost of around $5.1 million.

    “Such an unprecedented program must be based on data – data which might have supported a larger rollout had it been collected during the Department’s pilot program,” the report read.

    In October of 2014, the district launched a six-month pilot program that outfitted approximately 162 police officers with body cameras on the street. During that time, footage from the cameras was not publicly accessible, and all attempts to obtain footage through Freedom of Information Act requests were denied.

    In addition to slashing funding for the program, the committee recommended striking language from a budget rider bill that would exempt video recorded by the body cameras from disclosure through FOIA requests. Existing FOIA exemptions would still apply, which allow appeals any denials.

    “The committee favors public access that balances the serious privacy concerns raised by disclosure, and will only support regulations that strike this balance,” the report read.

    The committee wants to add language to the Budget Support Act that would establish a way for stakeholders to get together for the purpose of drafting balanced regulations.

    In a recent council hearing, D.C.’s Police Chief said she thinks the plan to block FOIA requests on the footage is the best possible plan right now because her department doesn’t have the technology to properly redact sensitive information, like people’s faces and personal details, from the video.

    According to Lanier, it could take up to 17 hours for someone to properly redact information from four minutes of video captured by the police body cameras and, though she doesn’t know exactly how much it would cost, she said it would be very expensive.

    However, the head of the agency that currently oversees FOIA requests in the city said it would be ill-advised to exempt the video from FOIA requests, and surely some of the $5 million set aside in the proposed budget could be used to hire more people to do the redacting.

    Traci Hughes, director of the city’s Office of Open Government, said that with all the recent news of alleged police wrong doing, it would not be the best option for the city.

    A request for comment from the mayor’s office was not immediately returned, but during a press conference last week Bowser said she doesn’t think either she or the D.C. city council will be able to come up with new regulations for the program in time for them to make it into budget legislation, but said she wants city council to pass the current legislation and they can figure out details later.

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