Billings City Council Discussing Billings Police Wearing Body Cameras

April 4, 2016

 

 

Billings, Montana March 4, 2016--//mna press//--  Billings Police may be sporting body cameras if the Billings City Council agenda has it’s way.

 

During a work session today at 5:30 p.m. the City Council Chamber members will discuss many topics such as Police gearing up with body cameras; Billings street policy, changes in Met bus service and fares to the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles and bus riders.

 

Just in one year, 2015, the Billings Police have had multiple complaints lodged against them for excessive force by police in 2015 .  This lends the public viewers to think that maybe the Billings Police Department has some problems with using excessive force.  Such as bad cop Grant Morrison who has now shot in the line of duty two (2) unarmed men.

 

Having the Billings Police Department outfitted with body cameras, would make the officers more likely to be held accountable with their actions towards the public and also on the other side of the coin make the public interactions more incontestable with what actually happened.   Not he said she said, a scenario such as it is currently unless the member of the public is over 100 feet away from the video I-cam’s that are in the patrol cars.

 

On the other had the new use of body cameras could create a legal fire storm when one’s privacy is violated by a patrolman’s body camera not to mention potential legal suits being filed when the Body Camera captures footage that over steps the boundaries of  Montana State law and Federal laws. 

 

The public must be forewarned that once Billings Police use the body camera technology, the Police Officer will not shut off his camera just because a member of the public asked for the camera to be turned off.     According to past cases Billings will have to release data to the public and no redactions can be made based on case precedents’ that have already been set.   The question is will the Department be transparent or will they try to hide what took place on case arrests?

 

Privacy: A Slippery Slope

Though accountability, improved behavior and a drop in citizen complaints are compelling reasons for law enforcement agencies to adopt the use of cameras, there are some potential pitfalls to such programs. Privacy concerns are among the most widely cited.

 

As body camera use becomes more widespread, several concerns become more apparent:

  • Video for entertainment value – As more agencies record their officers’ actions in the field, websites are popping up that publish all recordings for mere entertainment value of viewers, and perhaps the site owners’ personal financial gains.

  • Ability to field public records requests – A new YouTube account that publishes all recordings from law enforcement agencies is bogging down police public records requests. Back in September, “Police Video Requests” asked the Poulsbo Police Department in Washington for every second of footage its officers shot. That request could take up to three years to fill, the department estimates.

  • Trust – Some agencies themselves have also raised concerns about the use of cameras possibly interfering with open, legitimate exchanges during complicated encounters. Victims of domestic violence, for example, might be less willing to speak with candor to investigating officers if they know cameras are rolling.
     

Though the use of body cameras delivers some compelling benefits for law enforcement agencies, the pitfalls associated with privacy loss bear serious consideration, experts warn. Clear policies about when cameras should roll, and when they should be shut off, should be established, they say. A federal report also urges agencies to adopt straightforward policies on the length of time routine recordings should be archived before deletion.

As cameras present both strong pros and potentially sticky cons, the general consensus seems to be that adoption of use should be handled with care.

 

The City of Billings Police Department under the direction of Billings Police Chief Rich St. John will step into land mines of accountability and will fall into the pitfalls of privacy.   This should be interesting how Billings Police Chief handles this.

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