ACLU of Ohio wants Cincinnati police to amend body camera procedures

Letter: Changes needed to protect civil liberties
Posted at 1:35 PM, Aug 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-15 14:55:51-04

CINCINNATI – The ACLU of Ohio wants Cincinnati police to amend its body camera procedures to protect civil liberties, the group says in a letter to the city manager and police chief.

For starters, it says officers should be required to inform people when personal contact with police is being recorded and to stop recording if the person requests it.

The ACLU of Ohio also recommended:

  • Prohibiting body cameras in schools and for surveillance at political rallies and protests "except during an active incident."
  • Not allowing officers to review video before completing incident reports;
  • Not requiring the prosecutor's approval to release OVI recorded events;
  • Longer retention of video in some cases.

READ the letter here or below.

The ACLU of Ohio says it wrote in response to the city's request for comment on its recently released procedures to govern body worn cameras (BWC). The city started rolling out the first of 700 cameras to officers last week.

The ACLU of Ohio wants the city and Cincinnati police to amend procedures where it deems necessary to protect civil liberties in regards to "police accountability, personal privacy (for both residents and officers), mass surveillance, open records and government transparency," according to letter signed by Chief Lobbyist Gary Daniels.

"The ACLU of Ohio believes body cameras can be an important tool with many positive benefits but only if proper procedures and policies are in place to regulate their use and ensure positive benefits for all stakeholders," according to the letter.

The letter cites two reasons for recommending full disclosure by officers during personal contact with the public. One, it says the fallout from secretly recording victims or witnesses  "could reasonably lead to far fewer people cooperating with law enforcement and increased suspicion of body worn cameras." Two, disclosure would result in fewer false accusations, it says.

The city tells officers in Procedure 12.540 that they are not legally required to notify the public of recording during personal contact "unlike [in] the back of a patrol car or empty police interrogation room."

"Personal contact between an individual  and an officer does not constitute an environment where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy,"  the procedure says.

Not for spying

The ACLU of Ohio say it wants body camera use banned from providing "ongoing surveillance of constitutionally-protected activities such as political and religious rallies, protests and gatherings" and from public and private schools "except during an active incident."

"These prohibitions will give the public confidence body worn cameras are used to improve policing and not to spy on peaceful activities or record students," the letter says.

Furthermore, officers should not be allowed to review body camera video before completing incident reports, says the ACLU of Ohio.

"Unfortunately, sometimes controversial situations arise that reflect poorly on an officer or department and are only partially captured, or not at all, by body worn cameras," Daniels writes. "Regrettably, we know of occurrences of this type with regard to both dash cameras and body worn cameras.

"Such an addition would help reassure the public body worn cameras work to provide police accountability instead of hampering it."

As written, Cincinnati police policy requires the prosecutor's approval to release video of "OVI recorded events." Giving the prosecutor "unfettered discretion to release or not release these records is in direct contradiction to Ohio's public records laws," the ACLU of Ohio says.

Finally, the ACLU of Ohio says it recommends a "full retention schedule" for BWC video. At present, Procedure 12.540 calls for 90 days for "recordings not categorized for retention" and two years or longer for video "necessary for the investigation of administrative incidents (i.e. Use of Force, Citizen Complaints)."

ACLU of Ohio says it is satisfied with the former but recommends longer retention "dependent upon the seriousness of the matter."