Police body camera footage had initially been exempted from FOIA requests in the nation’s capital. Now, however, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has announced a new proposal that such footage will be made available to the public if the police encounter in question occurred in a public place.
The new proposal would make videos exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests if the footage was recorded inside a home or on other private property. If it were recorded on a public street or sidewalk, it would be made available to anyone who requests it with minimal redactions, according to the mayor’s proposal, circulated to the council last week.
Such an expansion would be more sweeping than any other major city in the U.S.
Bower’s decision comes with some controversial context. A year after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., tensions are just as high as that fatal night. Residents first recognized the tragic anniversary on Sunday by staging peaceful demonstrations throughout the day. Yet, come nighttime, others reignited the violence that rocked the city last year, urging the St. Louis County Executive to issue a state of emergency.
In other major cities, the police-citizen relationship is just as poor. Baltimore was literally on fire in April when residents responded violently to the death of Freddie Gray, who was killed in police custody. Crime has continued to skyrocket, with the homicide count now at a staggering 200.
These incidents have resulted in a damaging level of distrust between citizens and police. Will the expanded access to body camera footage in D.C. offer some much needed accountability in regards to police’s treatment of citizens and heal the relationship between cops and communities? Or will it unnecessarily keep law enforcement on their toes?