Concerns about police body-worn cameras to be aired at public hearing

     NewsWorks file photo

    NewsWorks file photo

    On the surface, police using body-worn cameras seems like a no-brainer: Recording cops’ interactions in the community would provide indisputable evidence of crimes and promote better behavior, by both police and the people they encounter, because they know they’re on camera.

    But where do you store the scores of digital files such recording would generate?

    And is the footage public record? Who gets to see it?

    And how do you protect the privacy of those caught on camera, especially if they’ve done nothing wrong?

    Such concerns are what drove Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. to schedule a public hearing next week Monday at City Hall. Officers in North Philly’s 22nd district and civil-affairs officers, who keep the peace at protests and rallies, have been wearing body cameras in a pilot project, and police brass want to expand the technology to the entire police department.

    But before that happens, Jones said he’d like some answers to the many questions the new technology raises.

    “It’s one thing to make a 50-person mistake; it’s another thing to make a 7,000-patrolman mistake,” Jones said.

    The hearing, in Council chambers at City Hall, will start at 1 p.m. and is expected to last until 4:30 p.m.

    Scheduled to testify are speakers from the ACLU; Upturn, a Washington, D.C.-based technology company that created a Body Worn Camera Scorecard for more than 50 cities nationwide; and CNA, a Virginia-based nonprofit that has researched body-worn cameras.

    Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross will give a demonstration of how officers use the cameras. Attorneys from the Philadelphia Defender Association and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will talk about how they use body camera footage in court, as well as their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the cameras.

    The public also will be able to speak.

    “One concern is whether the laws have caught up to the technology, in terms of civil-rights issues, right-to-evidence laws, how you treat the evidence in the chain of custody. A whole lot of policies have to catch up with that technology,” Jones said.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.