Should body cam footage be released immediately?

Compared to a few years ago, today it is not uncommon for police officers to wear body cameras. Now the question is, should that video footage be released, and if so, when?

According to an article posted on the LA Times web site, a new report (not cited) is claiming that out of a group of 3,200 people, 82% believe those videos should be released to the public, and 2/3 of them are law enforcement officers.

The next question is, when? 30 days after the incident? 60 days? One year? This is where the rift begins to widen between civilians and law enforcement officers.  In today’s politically and racially heated climate, civilians seem to think they have the authority to decide what really happened based on video footage.

As many of us know, video footage sparks public opinion, and public opinion often causes more problems in society than it helps. Take for instance the recent case of St. Louis officer Jason Stockley shooting Anthony Smith; the top stories and YouTube videos on the web were opinion pieces, most of them claiming that Stockley was a mad man with an AK47 assault rifle. Watching the dash cam, it’s actually difficult to tell at several points what is going on; the viewer most likely formed their own opinion based on what they had previously read and heard. This is where eye witness accounts and character testimonials come into play.

Because of scenarios like this, law enforcement officers and court officials are against body cam footage being released immediately.

LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck says in the article:

“That’s the thing that I worry about the most, is that we will get to a place where we just release raw evidence with no context. The release of body-worn video without the context … is not a good idea. And I think it would actually cause more harm than good.”

The LAPD’s union representative summed it up perfectly:

“…footage used inappropriately could hamper investigations, improperly influence potential jurors or invade the privacy of innocent people. That is too high a price to pay in the name of transparency.”