Remember when civil rights advocates demanded accountability from police and wanted them to wear bodycams? Those bodycams cost police departments a good chunk of money.
But now, a group called The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights avers that bodycams pose a “threat to civil rights.” They released a titled, “The Illusion of Accuracy: How Body-Worn Camera Footage Can Distort Evidence,” in which they decry bodycams because the officers can view the footage before they write incident reports.
In the report, Vanita Gupta, the leader of the Leadership Conference, who is a former ACLU director and former acting assistant attorney general of the civil rights division under former President Obama, writes, “The vast majority of the nation’s leading police departments with body-worn camera programs allow unrestricted footage review – meaning, officers are permitted to review footage from body-worn cameras whenever they’d like, including before writing their incident reports or making statements.”
Unrestricted footage review creates an illusion of accuracy because it produces a false impression about how much officers actually remember about an incident. It makes officers’ memories appear to be more accurate, and thus more credible, than the memories of other eyewitnesses — which can distort how an independent factfinder, like a judge or a jury, might understand how an incident truly unfolded. In the worst cases, because of the inherent limits of body-worn cameras, unrestricted footage review allows officers to square their version of events to the footage, and potentially create false beliefs about what actually happened.
You would think that those championing civil rights would want to simply see the facts of the case, but the report seems to be more concerned that a police officer might be more credible than some eyewitness:
Yet unrestricted footage review gives officers the opportunity to augment their initial incident reports with information that would not otherwise be available to them from their own memory. This makes officers’ reports artificially consistent with video footage and appear to be unnaturally comprehensive and credible, particularly compared to reports of other witnesses to events.