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What police officers should know about body cam footage

Calls for the review of police body cam footage have increased over the past few years. These requests commonly come as a result of complaints made against a police officer (or department) for civil rights violations. Indeed, body camera footage can be helpful in resolving baseless complaints, but it has the potential to be detrimental to an officer’s career.

For example, where there is a great deal of footage, violations (although benign) could be found no matter how procedurally correct an officer may be. The same could be said when body cameras are only on sporadically during an incident.

While every situation is different, police officers should keep some important things in mind when it comes to body cameras. This post will highlight a few.

Recordings are publicly available – Footage from these cameras are commonly deemed public information and may be obtained through administrative requests and subpoenas. This also applies to footage obtained through personally held body cams used in the course of duty.

Know your department’s policy – Before you are questioned about body cam footage in an internal affairs investigation or testify in a lawsuit, you should know whether you are allowed (or required) to view the footage.

Instances of non-compliance should be recorded – Unless expressly prohibited by department policy, the body cam should be recording to document non-compliance with instructions by an arrestee. This is essential in the event an arrestee (or another member of the public) files a complaint.

If you have additional questions about your legal rights and obligations regarding body cam footage, an experienced attorney can advise you.

The preceding is for informational purposes only. 

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