Should police officers purchase their own body cameras?

police-body-camRecently, there has been a lot of news about police body cameras. Police cameras, whether they are affixed to the patrol vehicle, or on the officer’s body, are great because they offer an objective view of contentious encounters with the public. Many police misconduct cases can only be proved by video evidence. However, because of strong public records laws in Washington State, it is not as simple as purchasing and installing the new technology. Governments must also take steps to properly preserve the digital recordings and provide these recordings to the public, upon request. As you can imagine, categorizing and preserving massive amounts of digital recordings is no easy task.

According to this article, some officers outside of Washington State are frustrated by government regulations and budgets preventing the issuance of the body cameras. Instead, these officers have gone out and purchased their own body cameras to record their interactions with the public. I am not surprised by this. Many officers are happy to have their contact with the public recorded to ensure they are not falsely accused of misconduct. Unfortunately, police in Washington State would likely violate the Public Records Act if they simply installed their own personal equipment. The Public Records Act would require the officers to store all recordings, and timely provide these recordings to the public upon request. Failure to do so would trigger penalties that can be quite costly for the government. Bottom line, body cameras are coming to Washington State. But the cameras have to be implemented by the government, itself, in order to ensure compliance with the Public Records Act.