Allows officers to view footage before reports
By Jeff Simms
The Beacon Police Department’s policy on how officers use body cameras receives mixed grades when compared to guidelines suggested by civil-rights groups but largely conforms with those of police executives.
The agency released its policy following a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request by The Current. Patrol officers in Beacon began wearing the cameras about six weeks ago, and Chief Kevin Junjulas says he hasn’t heard any feedback, positive or negative, from the community. “The department continues to find the body cameras useful,” he wrote on May 3 in an email.
The Beacon police used a nearly $10,000 federal grant to purchase the cameras, a technology also employed by officers in neighboring Newburgh and Wappingers Falls. In Putnam County, Sheriff Robert Langley Jr. says he plans to have his deputies use them, as well.
Watchdog organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and The Leadership Conference/Upturn have been critical of the technology, saying the cameras have not changed abusive behavior by some officers. At the same time, the Police Executive Research Forum says the cameras increase transparency and can help improve the “high-quality public service expected of police officers.”
Policy groups tend to agree on general standards regarding privacy and the use of cameras in dangerous situations but differ when it comes to implementation (see “How Beacon Compares,” below).
One sticking point has been whether officers should be allowed to view footage before they write incident reports.
“What they’re writing in a report could be what the cameras saw, not what the officer saw,” said Miranda Bogen, an Upturn analyst who argues that memory can be altered by viewing footage too quickly. Once the officer’s account has been mixed with the footage, “you can’t go back and separate the two,” she said.
Junjulas, who said last month the cameras were being implemented primarily to aid in prosecutions, wrote that he allows his officers to view the footage, calling it “an asset in helping them prepare accurate and detailed reports.” That echoes the position of the Police Executive Research Forum, which says “the goal is to find the truth, which is facilitated by letting officers have all possible evidence of the event.”
Upturn and the ACLU also advocate having specific guidelines on how long footage is saved. Both suggest that recordings not flagged for investigation be deleted within six months. The Police Executive Research Forum notes that two to three months is more typical.
The Beacon policy states that all footage shall be retained for a “period consistent with the requirements of the established records retention schedule” but never for less than 180 days. It doesn’t define the established retention schedule.
How Beacon Compares
Here is a look at how the body camera policy of the Beacon Police Department compares to guidelines created by The Leadership Conference/Upturn (bwcscorecard.org) and the Police Executive Research Forum (policeforum.org). The latter lists dozens of recommendations; below are some of its most prominent points. An asterisk indicates that the Beacon policy addresses the point but not as specifically as recommended.
Makes policy easily available on department website: No
Clearly describes when officers should record: Yes
Addresses personal privacy concerns of vulnerable individuals (e.g. victims of sex crimes): Yes
Prohibits officer pre-report viewing: No
Limits retention of footage: *
Prohibits tampering and misuse: Yes
Makes footage available to complainants: Yes
Limits use of facial recognition and other biometrics: No
Police Executive Research Forum
States which officers should wear cameras: Yes
Prohibits use of personal cameras: Yes
Says officer must report why camera not activated: Yes
Requires officer to tell subjects unless safety issue: *
States officer must get OK before victim interviews: *
Bans recording off-duty: Yes
Has data downloaded at end of shift: Yes
Allows officers to review before writing report: Yes
Bans access by officers for personal use: Yes