Researchers: Tampa police need to make changes to body cam program

A study of 50 police department body camera programs across the country has shown a failure to protect the civil rights of citizens, the researchers say. The Tampa Police Department received numerous red marks for its policies regarding body camera footage.

On Tuesday the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with Upturn, released a scorecard that evaluates the civil rights safeguards of police-worn body camera programs in 50 U.S. cities.

The report found that nationwide none of the department policies, of the reviewed agencies, limit whether an officer can review body camera footage before filing a police report, according to the researchers. Additionally, three major police departments – Aurora, Detroit and Pittsburgh – have yet to release body camera policies to the public.

Harlan Yu with Upturn says the adoption of body cameras doesn’t automatically increase police accountability.

“The purpose of this scorecard is really to expose some of the better practices from across the country in hopes that departments who are looking to improve their policies, especially to strengthen civil rights, will look toward their peer departments and emulate some of the better practices that are happening,” Yu said.

“And what we found was that, although body cameras carry the promise of increased accountability and transparency, accountability does not come automatically just because a police department has decided to buy and adopt body cameras,” he added.

Researchers only looked at one Tampa Bay area city. The study does credit the Tampa Police Department with addressing personal privacy concerns. The city received a middle rating for “limits officer discretion on when to record.”

In the remaining categories, the Tampa Police Department received all red marks, the worst score given. These categories are: Makes the department policy publicly and readily available; prohibits officer pre-report viewing; limits retention of footage; protects footage against tampering and misuse; makes footage available to individuals filing complaints; and limits biometric searching of footage.

Read the entire report here.

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