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Study Calls Ferguson's Body Camera Policy the Worst in US

A report comparing the body camera policies of 50 police departments harshly criticizes the city's approach to its use of body cameras, but a deal with the Justice Department force it to change.
Members of the Ferguson Police Department wear body cameras during a rally in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 30, 2014.

Members of the Ferguson Police Department wear body cameras during a rally in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 30, 2014.

Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Two years after a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri set off a rush to put cameras on police, big questions remain about how the devices are used. One challenge to finding answers: Many police departments don’t make it easy to understand the rules.

A study of body camera policies in 50 police departments, released Tuesday, found that only 26 of them made their policies easily available to the public. It was the second scorecard on body camera policies published by The Leadership Conference, an umbrella group of civil rights organizations, and Upturn, a group focused on technology and social issues.

The study looked at a range of criteria, giving each department an assessment on eight different factors related to its approach to accountability and privacy. No department fared worse than Ferguson, which failed each one. “It’s probably the worst body cam policy we’ve seen,” said Harlan Yu, a principal at Upturn. 

The report made two main criticisms of body camera policies. Firstly, all departments allow police officers to review footage of contentious incidents before writing a report about what happened. This shouldn't be allowed because it gives officers a chance to protect themselves from accountability by tailoring their stories to explain away misconduct, The Leadership Conference said. Most police departments using body cameras disagree, as illustrated by how few put meaningful restrictions on officers viewing footage before submitting their statements.