Report: Body Cams Threaten Civil Rights

Some of the same civil rights activists who pushed for police body cameras are now criticizing the body cams as a threat to civil rights.  A new report from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights claims body cams can threaten civil rights of citizens because the video footage can influence how officers write or edit incident reports.  Specifically, the report expresses concerns that officers are allowed to view body cam footage repeatedly, before and during the writing of reports.  The authors believe that unfairly allows officers to clean up or alter inconsistencies in their reports that would otherwise come out in a courtroom.

Houston police now utilize body cameras after much debate over the issue, and officers are fully on board with the cameras.  But Houston Police Union President Ray Hunt warns body cams cannot always give an accurate depiction of an incident.  "An officer's body camera is going to capture exactly what is in front of that lens, and not necessarily see everything that the officer is seeing," says Hunt.  "Many times officers have tunnel vision, or focus simply on someone's hands---because the hands are what can harm us most---and they might not see something that someone could see on the video."

For that reason, Hunt and the union firmly support officers being able to access body cam video before writing an incident report.  "We believe that an officer has a right to see any videos before that officer makes a statement or writes a report," he says.

Hunt also disputes the notion that the body camera system gives an unfair advantage to officers.  He points out that the HPD union supported a provision in Texas law that allows citizens to block the release of body cam video.  "The reason for that is that sometimes there are some very embarrassing things that happen on a traffic stop for the violator, and that person may not want that to be on a YouTube video or on somebody's website, so they should have to authorize the release of that," he says.

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