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After a public hearing last month addressing concerns with Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s proposed police body-worn camera legislation, a D.C. Council committee led by Ward 5 representative Kenyan McDuffie has approved significant changes to the bill.
While many of the line items remain the same, a summary of the changes provided to City Desk by McDuffie’s office shows that those involving public access to the footage saw the biggest amendments from the Council’s committee on the judiciary, which McDuffie chairs. Among the changes: striking the word “assault” from a list of exemptions to requests through D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act; prohibiting officers from reviewing recordings while they write initial incident reports; and shortening the length of time that the MPD has to make footage available to a requester (or notify them of its status) from 45 business days to 25 business days.
Since the mayor’s office submitted the bill to the Council a couple of months ago, media and open-government advocates have expressed concern that exemptions or “carve-outs” to the D.C. FOIA would unduly burden those attempting to access footage. For example, had the “assault” exemption remained, it could have effectively barred the public from getting the footage of an MPD officer committing an “assault” against a resident. Additionally, under the changes, all officer-involved shootings and “serious use of force” by MPD are considered of significant public interest and therefore subject to release by the mayor’s office.
Still, advocates for victims of domestic violence expressed concerns that allowing body-worn cameras into people’s homes during police interventions could hurt the very victims the police were trying to help. The committee’s mark-up of the bill maintains Bowser’s provision that information of personal nature—including footage of partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking—is exempt from FOIA.
“From the very beginning, we’ve tried to strike that balance between government transparency and accountability and protecting people’s privacy rights,” McDuffie told Fox5 Wednesday. “I think that where we have arrived at, it does all of those things, and this is going to be a win for every resident and visitor to the District of Columbia. It’s going to be a win for all of our officers in MPD.”
Now that the judiciary committee has approved the changes, the Council’s committee of the whole will vote on the bill Dec. 1, possibly proposing their own amendments before a final vote.
A representative for McDuffie’s office says he’s confident the changed bill will pass, and the mayor’s office has expressed interest in seeing the bill move. “We are pleased that we are able to move forward to implement one of the largest body-worn camera programs in the nation. The Mayor believes body-worn cameras can improve transparency and accountability across the board and make the city safer,” says a representative for Mayor Bowser.
If the bill passes, a few thousand MPD patrol officers will next year start getting equipped with the cameras, which are already funded.
You can review the summary of the most-up-to-date provisions below:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery