D.C. Mayor Proposes Privatizing Body Cam Assault Videos

To respect the privacy of victims of violence, the mayor of D.C. proposed denying public access to a broad section of police body camera video.

by / September 11, 2015
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser Flickr/AFGE

On Sept. 9, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel E. Bowser submitted legislation to council that if approved would roll back some of the district's police body camera transparency measures. According to The Washington Post, Bowser said in August that a series of police-involved shootings caught on camera led her to favor greater transparency with regard to police body camera video, but the new provisions introduced make the mayor's exact stance unclear.

The new legislation would make several broad categories of video unavailable to the public, including all video containing assaults.

Members of the public who file complaints that lead to charges against a police officer would also be prohibited from viewing any video in which they themselves where recorded. Video subjects would also not be allowed to view recordings if a police officer had filed charges against that person based on the subject's actions caught on camera. In either scenario, the city could only release those videos if ordered to do so during legal proceedings, or if the mayor and police chief allow it.

Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie was surprised by the mayor's proposal, and council member David Grosso told The Washington Post that the plan sounded like a step back from the mayor's previous commitments to transparency.

“What other jurisdictions are exempting all assaults?” Grosso told the Post. “Exempting whole categories like that runs counter to the goal of greater transparency.”

Bowser’s deputy mayor for public safety, Kevin Donahue, said the city decided to favor privacy of the victims.

"By definition, a victim of assault has had their rights, their space, violated, and we don’t want to risk further violating that space by allowing someone who is unconnected to the assault to have access to the video,” he said.

In other jurisdictions, like Seattle, some have proposed intermediate measures, like removing audio and obscuring faces, short of making video access unavailable altogether.