As body cameras increase in popularity, the question has become: who can access the footage and when? In Washington, D.C., where the government is planning to add 1,200 body cameras to their police force, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has been insistent that footage will not be widely available to the public, for privacy and security reasons.
But the D.C. council appears ready to fight her over that.
According to the Washington Post, the council voted on the city budget plan Tuesday, and added an amendment stipulating that Bowser must allot $1.5 million to address Freedom of Information Act requests for footage.
“The ball is in her court,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) told the Post. “What we did is say it’s subject to appropriation.” He added that “she is completely able to fund” the extra cash.
This is the second round of brawling over the footage. The council already rejected Bowser’s initial plan to give the footage a complete exemption to public-records laws, and slashed the number of her requested 2,400 cameras.
Bowser has expressed her objection to the $1.5 million for FOIA requests scheme, but has not yet said whether she’ll comply with the amendment.
The question of body camera footage appears to have no simple answer, as the footage is sure to contain sensitive information—the inside of private homes, police documents, or images of abuse victims, for example. On the other hand, civil liberties advocates warn that allowing police total control over their own footage would null any positive effect on police accountability.
Earlier this year, Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier predicted that redacting footage in order to release it safely to the public would be “very costly and time-consuming.”