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Responsible police body cam use can be beneficial

Body-worn cameras are being used in Brookhaven by police officers, and for good reason. Body cams offer a measure of protection for police and the public.

But there are privacy concerns. When the city created its policies regarding body cams, care was taken to address some of those concerns. Officers, for example, are supposed to announce that they are recording (though not required) and a resident can ask an officer to stop recording in places where they have an expectation of privacy — homes, restrooms, locker rooms, etc. — unless police suspect a crime has been committed.

The footage from cameras is also required to be kept on a computer hard drive for 90 days. If footage is needed for an ongoing investigation, officers submit requests for the specific footage needed, according to city policy.

Any use of the footage outside of the department requires written consent from the district attorney, according to police.

“It’s not going to be anything for the public to see, it’s for court purposes only,” Bobby Bell, who was police chief when the cameras were put into service, said. “The only way they’re going to release any video to an entity or somebody is with written permission from the district attorney.”

It appears Brookhaven has tried to address most of the issues surrounding the issue of body cams. One point that we think deserves more attention is the 90 days that footage is stored. The city’s policies state that an officer will be responsible for downloading any footage needed for evidence beyond that 90-day window. Video needed for any felony investigation will be stored long-term as well. And any footage needed for investigation of complaints against officers can also be stored beyond the 90 days.

But the policy makes the assumption that someone has made a complaint against an officer within that 90 days. If someone believes they have been mistreated by an officer, it might take them more than 90 days to secure a lawyer and file a complaint. In those cases, the footage will be gone. The city should look at extending the 90-day window to something more reasonable. Maybe 180 days would give the public ample time to file a complaint.

The ACLU of Mississippi is hoping that lawmakers will create a consistent policy across all departments in the state that address privacy and government accountability. We think that is a good idea, and we think the policy should be thoroughly vetted and debated before the public. It is in everyone’s interest that law enforcement uses body cams responsibly.