Ferguson Improves Police Body Camera Policy, But Gaps Remain, Critics Say

After criticism of its approach to police-worn body cameras, Ferguson, Missouri shares an updated version of its rules with Bloomberg.

On the heels of a report describing its policy on police body cameras as the nation’s worst, Ferguson, Missouri shared an updated version of its rules with Bloomberg News. The policy, dated Feb. 26, addresses a number of the criticisms made by The Leadership Conference and Upturn, the two civil rights organizations that published the report Tuesday. 

Ferguson’s police department, which drew nationwide attention when one of its officers shot an unarmed black man named Michael Brown in 2014, has been using body cameras for nearly two years.

The latest rules require Ferguson police officers to use body cameras to record a wide range of incidents, including any adversarial interactions, all traffic stops, incidents involving potential criminal activity and arrests. They also explicitly forbid officers from turning off cameras in the middle of a confrontation. 

Harlan Yu, a principal at Upturn, said Ferguson’s updated policy is an improvement over the one it assessed for its study, which came from a 2014 document obtained by the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Yu still had several concerns about the new policy, including the city’s decision to allow officers to review footage before filing reports about contentious encounters and the lack of an explicit plan to delete footage after a certain period of time. 

 “It’s much more substantive than the initial version, but there are still significant gaps,” said Yu. 

The use of police body cameras is controversial, in part because critics worry footage from controversial encounters may be incomplete, tampered with or deleted. Last October, Ferguson police officers were present when an 18-year-old man was shot and killed in a neighboring town. Officers at the scene said the man shot himself, but witnesses questioned the account, according to local news reports. While the department released footage from body cameras, the moment of the shooting itself was missing. 

This January, a group of people arrested at a protest sued Ferguson, saying that it destroyed video evidence of their arrests that would have exonerated them. The city said it lost or destroyed footage captured from a camera mounted on a building. Ferguson did provide some body camera footage, but the lawsuit claimed it “had been edited to begin after he began making arrests." In a court filing, Ferguson officials disputed this. The lawsuit is ongoing. 

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