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Civil Rights Group: Mesa, Phoenix Police Body-Worn Camera Policy Needs Update

body camera
Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ
file | staff
A Mesa police officer demonstrates a body camera.

A review of body-worn camera policies in 75 police departments, including two in Arizona, found many agencies could be damaging their credibility and inhibiting citizen’s rights.

The non-profit Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights released the latest version of it’s body-worn camera scorecard Tuesday. About three-quarters of departments surveyed, including those in Phoenix and Mesa allow officers to review footage before writing reports and making statements.

“If an officer views the footage before filing his or her report an opportunity will arise for the officer to conform the report to what the video appears to show rather than what he or she remembers,” said Sakira Cook, senior counsel with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

The group argued allowing officers to review the footage also creates an uneven playing field if member of the public, including victims or those who might make complaints are not afforded the same opportunity.

A Phoenix Police Department spokesman questioned the accuracy of the policy review and wrote in an email officers cannot see videos before making statements at critical incidents.

“The Phoenix Police Department continues to be industry leaders in the use of body worn camera technologies and policies. We work closely with the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance to ensure our policy is consistent with, and in fact leading, national standards.”

You can read the Phoenix Police Department’s most current policies here.

A spokesman from the Mesa Police Department issued this statement in response to the scorecard.

“We are constantly evaluating our policies regarding current best practices and industry standards. Our Body Worn Camera program is evaluated in the same manor [sic].  Although camera programs have been around for several years, they are still very new in the realm of policy and best practices.”

You can read Mesa's policy here.

The report recommended officers write their police reports before watching body-camera footage and make additions later, delete un-flagged footage after six months and prohibit biometric searches of video, such as facial recognition.

“Communities expect body worn cameras to be tools for transparency and accountability, but when officers can always view footage and the public rarely gets access, communities are right to question whose interests body worn cameras actually serve,” said Harlan Yu, who directs the nonprofit Upturn, which studies the intersection of social issues and technology.

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.