NEFAC, Rhode Island Advocates: Police Body Camera Policy Needs More Transparency

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The New England First Amendment Coalition and several Rhode Island organizations — collectively known as Access Rhode Island — highlighted today deficiencies in a recently released state policy for the use of police-worn body cameras.

The groups wrote in a statement that:

“While the policy deployed by the Department of Public Safety and the Attorney General’s office puts in place a structure for these cameras, it remains deficient in strong standards which would provide for timely release of footage relating to incidents that the public should have quick access to, including in situations where there has been serious use of force.”

NEFAC previously submitted testimony on draft versions of the policy. Journalist and NEFAC Board of Directors member Tim White testified at an Aug. 3 hearing on behalf of the coalition and emphasized the need for better public access to body camera footage. NEFAC reiterated the point and provided a more detailed response to the draft policy in an Aug. 16 letter.

The final policy allows the release of body camera footage showing excessive force by police officers once the investigation into the incident is “substantially completed.” The policy, however, doesn’t require an investigation be “substantially completed” within any specific time frame.

As a result, NEFAC and fellow advocates explained, the policy “only provides a vague and imprecise expected timeframe for release of such footage and does not encourage prompt release.”

The groups added that:

“As important as the deployment of body-worn cameras to law enforcement officers in Rhode Island is to ensuring oversight and transparency in policing practices, that transparency and oversight is only as meaningful as the public’s ability to access the critical footage and information that is collected by this technology.”

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. The coalition regularly writes and joins advocacy letters in cases involving First Amendment freedoms and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include the Rhode Island Foundation, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.