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A Decade After Their Implementation, Are Police Body Cams Delivering Transparency or Accountability?

Police have undermined the promise of transparency and accountability that accompanied the body-camera movement that began a decade ago, reports Eric Umansky for the New York Times. Costing hundreds of millions of dollars, the technology represented the largest new investment in policing in a generation and were implemented in the wake of widespread Black Lives Matter protests in 2014. But in just a single review of civilians killed by police officers in June 2022, police have released footage in just 33 cases, or about 42 percent, in the year and half since.

Los Angeles has spent nearly $60 million since getting cameras in 2016. In Philadelphia, where footage is rarely released, the cameras have cost taxpayers about $20 million. New York City has spent more than $50 million. Yet police have often been able to keep footage hidden from the public in even the most extreme cases. And when full footage has been released, often by prosecutors or after public pressure, it often contradicts initial police accounts. Jeff Schlanger, a former New York deputy commissioner who had an oversight role during the implementation of body-worn cameras and left the department in 2021, believes that the police have often failed to use the cameras for accountability and that political leaders need to do more.

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