The Buffalo Police Department on September 1, 2018 ended its pilot project utilizing police officer body cameras. The Police Department has operated body cameras under a draft policy that was issued without any public discussion or debate.
Before any final policy is implemented it is important for there to be a community discussion regarding how body cameras will be used and how video footage will be made available to the public.
The University at Buffalo Law School Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic in a report written on behalf of the Buffalo Police Advisory Board, made the following recommendations: The Buffalo Police Department (BPD) should engage meaningfully with the public and consider changes to its draft policy before rolling out body cams citywide at significant cost to the taxpayers.
Specifically, we propose that the BPD’s body-worn camera program should not be rolled out until:
(1) BPD publishes its proposed final policy publicly, including on its website
(2) BPD supplies a meaningful opportunity for the public to comment
(3) BPD considers whether to modify the policies to address public concerns, and
(4) BPD reports back to the Common Council about the changes it made or didn’t make in response to public comments.
After BPD publishes its proposed final policy (item #1 above), it should allow enough time for community members to provide input in writing, in person at community forums, and perhaps through an online forum or commenting process.
The BPD should play an active role in these public comment events; the presence and participation of BPD leadership is essential to making community forums meaningful, both in person and online. The Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government wholeheartedly supports the recommendations stated above.
The Buffalo Police Department has a tremendous opportunity to engage the public and build trust by developing a final body camera policy through a transparent process. Issuing a final policy without engaging the public in any way will create distrust and suspicion, which in the long run will harm relations between the Police Department and the community.
-Paul W. Wolf, Esq.
President Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government, Inc.