Rochester should set example for nation on body cameras
Before long, police officers in the city of Rochester will be wearing body cameras. That is quickly becoming the norm across the nation, yet each city is on its own when it comes to developing rules for the use of those cameras and the videos they record.
That isn't going so well, according to a report from a coalition of major civil rights organizations. It came up with a list of recommended rules, and then checked to see how 25 cities stacked up. None made the honor roll.
The city of Rochester should be the first.
The city is negotiating a policy with the union representing its police officers. This follows months of work on the proposed rules, as well as significant input from the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform — which had been pressing for the cameras even before the fatal police shooting that set off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.
Before selecting a vendor this week, the city showed coalition members cameras from four companies.
Unlike some cities, Rochester appears to be taking a thoughtful, relatively transparent and community-based approach to outfitting officers with cameras. It is unfortunate the policy was not ready when the city picked its vendor, but as soon as union negotiations conclude, we expect the city to make its policy public.
We believe the policy should largely reflect the recommendations of the Rochester Coalition for Police Reform. In addition to being well-researched and sound, the group's buy-in is critical to building trust between police and the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve.
To gain a perfect score with leading civil rights organizations, the city will have to: make its policy easy for the public to see; limit the amount of discretion police officers have over when to record; address privacy issues for both police and citizens; prevent officers from seeing the videos before they file their reports; delete "unflagged" footage in six months; make sure videos can't be tampered with; allow people who complain of police misconduct to see relevant footage; and sharply limit the use of technology, like facial recognition, to identify people in videos.
Yes, there is a lot to think about before putting a body camera on a police officer.
The city of Rochester should be commended for taking the time to do that. But, as they say, it's not over till it's over. We urge the union and the city to get it right before they emerge from talks, and then make sure everyone understands and follows the rules.
In addition, our congressional delegation should be pushing for a specific national policy and review system to ensure these cameras are doing what they are ultimately supposed to do: provide a tool to help improve police-community relations across America.