The Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has penned a letter to the Providence City Council, urging them to veto the purchase of body cameras for city police. While the organization is in favor of the cameras, RI ACLU head Steve Brown said the police department hasn’t offered a clear path for public access to the footage.
“This isn’t something where you buy the technology and then try figure out after the fact what the policy should be governing their use,” said Brown. “That’s sort of letting the technology dictate what the policy should be, when it should be the other way around.”
Under the proposed policy, residents could obtain footage through public records requests, but they could be blocked access if the footage is part of an ongoing investigation.
Brown said that is the very time when residents need the most access to body camera footage, such as video of a police shooting.
“The notion that there might be footage like that taken by police officers from these body cameras that nobody would be able to see really undermines and erodes, what we think is one of the goals of having police body cameras, which is to help promote, trust in the community,” said Brown.
Providence Police announced the plan to outfit patrol officers with body cameras in September. They’ve received federal money to offset the cost of the 250 cameras and digital storage of the footage they collect. The Providence City Council must approve the remainder of the spending.
Providence Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.