On the heels of the tragic police shooting and subsequent death of an innocent woman in Minneapolis, the ACLU of RI has sent letters to the police chiefs of both Newport and Providence urging them to revise and strengthen their existing body camera policies so that they promote full transparency in policing.
Noting the controversy that has erupted over the failure of the Minneapolis police officer and his partner to activate their body cameras while investigating the woman’s 911 call, the ACLU letters to Newport and Providence claim that were a similar tragedy to occur here, police officers’ cameras likely would not have been activated either under the department’s current policies. The letters cite the benefit that such technology can offer in its ability to promote transparency – but only when there are strict policies in place for camera activation. The body camera policies in place in both Newport and Providence give police broad discretion about when cameras should be activated, requiring on-the-spot decision making that undermines the technology’s potential for full transparency.
“This technology has the potential to be a win-win for law abiding Rhode Islanders and for police, but only if the proper policies are in place – and as of right now, they are not,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive director. “Without stricter guidelines governing the use of these cameras, we risk deepening the existing division between law enforcement and the public,” Brown continued.
The ACLU of RI has been advocating for some time for clear standards regarding the use of body camera technologies by Rhode Island law enforcement. In addition to calling for standards that limit individual decision-making about camera activation, the ACLU has also argued for clear guidelines about public access to camera footage, noting that the benefit of transparency is lost when police departments can deny access to footage in use-of-force situations. To the best of the ACLU’s knowledge, Newport and Providence are the only two police departments in the state that have piloted body camera programs.