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Why do some state police officials have concerns about body cameras?

Over the last few years, an increasing number of police departments across the nation have been rolling out a new piece of equipment that experts say could serve to change the face of law enforcement as we currently know it.

Interestingly enough, however, the equipment in question has nothing to do with investigatory techniques or the apprehension of criminal subjects, but rather the recording of interactions between officers and the general public.

Indeed, your next interaction with a police officer may be recorded via a small body camera and the accompanying footage uploaded to a secure database located back at the local precinct.

While the idea of police officers wearing body cameras certainly has abundant promise — improving overall transparency and helping ensure accountability for any instances of police misconduct — there are some police officials here in Tennessee who worry that the cameras may actually violate privacy rights.

Specifically, they are concerned that open records requests for video footage might violate the privacy rights of victims, juveniles and other bystanders whether it’s captured as part of a traffic stop, investigation of possible domestic violence or drunk driving arrest.

“If I go into your house and you have a juvenile who’s not involved in the incident, he’s going to be captured on camera,” said the chief of the Chattanooga PD. “Should that be released? If it shouldn’t be released, how much time and money and work is it going to take to redact?”

Consequently, many of these police officials are now calling on state lawmakers to amend the Tennessee Open Records Act, originally passed in 1957, to account for this new reality.

For their part, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Tennessee Chapter is working alongside both state lawmakers and police officials to discuss possible solutions and draft a model camera policy.

Indeed, while the group supports the body cameras, it also favors such privacy protection measures as citizen consent to release, redaction to protect identities and relatively quick deletion of nonessential footage (i.e., footage that doesn’t involve complaints or allegations of misconduct).

It remains to be seen what steps, if any, state lawmakers will take regarding these body cameras. Given that both the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office are field testing them as we speak, here’s hoping we get some answers sooner than later.

State Bar of Georgia
TBA | Tennessee Bar Association
CBA | Chattanooga Bar Association
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