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DC Mayor Caves On Body Camera Regulations After Council Pulls Funding

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Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser backed away from plans to exempt all police body camera footage from Freedom of Information Act requests and now plans for a much more access-friendly program.

In a new proposal sent to City Council Member Kenyan McDuffie, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, the mayor’s office announced plans to scrap the blanket exemption and introduce different levels of access to videos depending on the circumstance.

Members of the public would be allowed to obtain lightly-redacted copies of video captured on city sidewalks and during traffic stops.

Faces of minors would be blurred and personal medical information redacted from video captured on city sidewalks and streets, while footage from traffic stops would also have audio removed.

“We believe it is highly important to continue to protect individuals’ privacy when they come in contact with law enforcement officers at moments when they are at their most vulnerable,” Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue said in a memo accompanying the proposal.

Bowser’s proposal takes a more heavy handed approach to video captured in private homes and spaces. That video would only be available to lawyers and police being investigated for misconduct.

The plan to block all video shot inside private homes didn’t sit well with D.C. Police Union Treasurer Gregg Pemberton, who said the FOIA law used by the district already has an exemption for privacy issues.

“We believe indoor videos can be redacted as easily as outdoor videos,” Pemberton told TheDCNF. “The cameras are about transparency and having stronger policies than FOIA restricts access unnecessarily and circumvents that transparency.”

Bowser’s proposal to allow public access to video comes after the city council blocked implementation of the program until Bowser could come up with a viable solution to privacy and transparency concerns.

Originally, Bowser wanted to exempt all footage captured by police body cameras from access through FOIA, but McDuffie and members of the public said it would defeat the purpose of the program if no one could see the videos.

McDuffie’s office did not return request for comment for this article, but in the past, he questioned the mayor’s motives in exempting the footage.

“There is some irony in trying to increase transparency while simultaneously blocking FOIA requests, which enhance transparency,” McDuffie said when the issue first came before the council.

According to the memo, all FOIA requests would need to provide a precise location, date and time in order to avoid “fishing expeditions,” and any footage related to cases involving domestic violence, sexual assaults or stalking would be prohibited from release.

On a case-by-case basis, however, the mayor would be able to release unredacted footage to the media if it were a matter of great public interest, under the new guidelines.

Pemberton said those exclusions weren’t necessary and the police only want what is required by FOIA laws.

“We want people to see that by and large, police act professionally and within policy,” he said. “The only thing they see is sensationalized videos of alleged misconduct. The bwc’s will allow us to prove that’s not the majority.”

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Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.