PROVIDENCE, RI – On the heels of the tragic police shooting
and subsequent death of an innocent woman in Minneapolis, the ACLU of RI has
sent letters to the police chiefs of both Newport and Providence urging them to
revise and strengthen their existing body camera policies so that they promote
full transparency in policing.
Noting the controversy that has erupted over the failure of
the Minneapolis police officer and his partner to activate their body cameras
while investigating the woman’s 911 call, the ACLU letters to Newport and
Providence claim that were a similar tragedy to occur here, police officers’
cameras likely would not have been activated either under the department’s
current policies. The letters cite the benefit that such technology can offer
in its ability to promote transparency – but only when there are strict
policies in place for camera activation. The body camera policies in place
in both Newport and Providence give police broad discretion about when cameras
should be activated, requiring on-the-spot decision making that undermines the
technology’s potential for full transparency.
“This technology has the potential to be a win-win for law
abiding Rhode Islanders and for police, but only if the proper policies are in
place – and as of right now, they are not,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI
executive director. “Without stricter guidelines governing the use of these
cameras, we risk deepening the existing division between law enforcement and
the public,” Brown continued.
The ACLU of RI has been advocating for some time for clear
standards regarding the use of body camera technologies by Rhode Island law
enforcement. In addition to calling for standards that limit individual
decision-making about camera activation, the ACLU has also argued for clear
guidelines about public access to camera footage, noting that the benefit of
transparency is lost when police departments can deny access to footage in
use-of-force situations. To the best of the ACLU’s knowledge, Newport and
Providence are the only two police departments in the state that have piloted
body camera programs.