POST: Police-Worn Body Camera Footage: A Public Record?

In a twopart series on the Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) Issues and Advocacy Roundtable blog, Rachel Mattson (Archives of La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club) addresses a contemporary debate surrounding police-worn body camera footage.

Body-worn cameras (BWCs for short) began raising a range of legal and archival questions that municipalities and police departments were woefully underprepared to address. Should footage generated by police-worn body cameras be classified as a public record? When and how should access be granted to family members, journalists, lawyers, activists, researchers, and other interested parties? How can officials protect the privacy of individuals whose lives, and homes, are caught on video? What strategies should be used to ensure the integrity of the digital files generated by BWCs? What kinds of retention policies should determine the disposition of the deluge of new, ever-increasing video records?

The posts highlight the archival issues on the topic, point readers to the UCLA Department of Information Studies’s recent “On the Record, All the Time: Setting an Agenda for Audiovisual Evidence Management,” and call for more conversations on the topic, particularly those driven by archival professionals: “As trained professionals, we have a responsibility to add our multiple voices to the conversation.”

Mattson calls for contributions or supporters for an ongoing effort to bring the issue of body-worn cameras to SAA, reporting: “This fall, I will work to start a conversation about BWCs among SAA members and hope to put forth proposal to the Society of American Archivists’ Committee on Public Policy (COPP) that SAA take a public stand supporting policies that, at a minimum, ensure that police BWC footage be officially classified as a public record.”

This series highlights challenges of developing sound, ethical archival and records management practices to accommodate the rapid adoption of new technologies by government agencies and other institutions.

dh+lib Review

This post was produced through a cooperation between Katherine Ahnberg, Leigh Bonds, Kevin Gunn, Christie Hurrell, Jenna Freedman, Hailie Posey, and Alycia Sellie. (Editors-at-large for the week), Patrick Williams (Editor for the week), Sarah Potvin (Site Editor), and Caitlin Christian-Lamb, Caro Pinto, and Roxanne Shirazi (dh+lib Review Editors).