Should cops be allowed to see bodycam footage before filing reports?

As bodycams roll out in more and more American police departments, officers are asking to be allowed to review footage of shootings before they file their reports, on the grounds that fallible memories from high-stress moments can be augmented by footage -- but of course, this would also help an officer know how much he can lie without getting contradicted by the video evidence.

The article is part of the ACLU's excellent Free Future project, which explicitly looks at futuristic civil liberties questions.


It enables lying. If an officer is inclined to lie or distort the truth to justify a shooting, showing an officer the video evidence before taking his or her statement allows the officer to lie more effectively, and in ways that the video evidence won’t contradict. Video evidence can be enormously helpful, but it doesn’t capture everything from every angle. If an officer isn’t sure what was and was not captured by the camera, he or she will feel a healthy pressure to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” in describing an incident out of a desire not to be later revealed as a liar by the video. But if the officer watches the video and discovers that certain elements that put them in a poor light happened not to have been captured—or that there’s a moment when the subject wasn’t in frame that the officer can say he reached for his waistband—then the officer will feel at liberty to shade and color their account of events, if not to lie outright.

It undermines the legitimacy of investigations. Because letting officers preview videos of an incident before giving a statement can allow them to lie, doing so undermines the credibility of officer statements and the integrity of investigations whether the officers actually lie or not. Such a policy will create an appearance of bias and therefore taint the integrity of investigations. After all, departments aren’t proposing to show video evidence to the subjects of uses of force or to civilian witnesses; that’s a special privilege they’re proposing to give only to officers.


Should Officers Be Permitted to View Body Camera Footage Before Writing Their Reports? [Peter Bibring & Jay Stanley/ACLU]


(Thanks, Josh!)

(Image: Occupy Wall Street S15 Arrest, Paul Stein, CC-BY-SA)