Sens. Schatz, Paul & Reps. Brown, Ellison, Cummings Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Expand Responsible Use of Police Body Cameras

Police CAMERA Act Would Create A Grant Program To Help Local Law Enforcement Agencies Develop Body-Worn Camera Programs

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) introduced the Police Creating Accountability by Making Effective Recording Available (Police CAMERA) Act of 2015.  This legislation would create a pilot grant program to assist state and local law enforcement agencies develop safe and effective body-worn camera programs that also protect civilians’ privacy rights.

“The relationship between our communities and the men and women who protect them is based on trust and accountability,” said Senator Schatz.  “In communities like Ferguson, we have seen that public trust eroded by reports of racism and use of excessive force by police.  Body-worn police cameras are already being used by some police departments and have shown to be effective in keeping our communities safe.  Our legislation would help expand the responsible use of body-worn police cameras and help make sure our police officers and law enforcement agencies are more accountable to the communities they serve.”

“Body cameras will benefit the brave men and women who serve in our police force and the people they protect,” said Senator Paul. “The use of body cameras helps officers collect and preserve evidence to solve crimes, while also decreasing the number of complaints against police. The Police CAMERA Act will help state and local police departments access this new tool, while ensuring that the privacy rights of every civilian is respected.”

“At a time when the trust between law enforcement and those they were sworn to protect has reached a critical point, the Police CAMERA Act gives us an opportunity to explore and learn best practices for the use of body worn cameras,” said Representative Brown.  “Representing Florida, a place that has had its share of issues with transparency and police accountability, the Police CAMERA Act is a positive bi-partisan measure which strengthens trust between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.”

“After the tragic deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Robert Saylor and Tamir Rice, a stronger bond must be forged between our communities and police forces,” said Representative Ellison.  “The pilot program created by the Police CAMERA Act empowers law enforcement officials who want to do better for the people they protect and serve.  Body cameras alone won’t stop the next tragedy, but we should take every common-sense step we can to increase accountability and protect both civilians and police officers.”

“To begin to repair the relationship between law enforcement and local communities, we need smart, bipartisan, bicameral solutions like the Police CAMERA Act,” said Representative Cummings.  “This bill would help law enforcement agencies get the resources they need to carry out crucial information-gathering on the ground, while also helping identify best practices at the national level.  Perhaps most significantly, the Police CAMERA Act brings the public directly into the conversation.  It requires recipients to make their body camera policies public, and also requires them to allow individuals to file complaints about the use of these cameras.  This is exactly the kind of public accountability we need to carry out effective criminal justice policy.”

Recent incidents of reported use of excess force by police in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; and Pasco, Washington have shown a need for greater accountability in our law enforcement agencies.  Police departments that have piloted the use of body-worn cameras have seen a drop in incidents of use of excessive force and complaints against police.

The Police CAMERA Act of 2015 would:

  • Establish a pilot grant program using existing funding to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies with the purchasing or leasing of body-worn cameras.
  • Authorize an impact-study after two years. The study would assess the impact body-worn cameras have on reducing the use of excessive force by police, its effects on officer safety and public safety, and procedures to protect the privacy of individuals who are recorded.

Supporters of the Police CAMERA Act of 2015 include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

 “Appalling events illustrating the distrust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, particularly communities of color, continue to manifest day-after-day in neighborhoods across America,” said Kanya A. Bennett, Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.  “Our hope is the Police CAMERA Act is one of many steps forward in reforms and will prove to be a win-win for both law enforcement and communities by discouraging police misconduct and exonerating officers accused of unsubstantiated wrongdoing. With the right protocols in place, body-worn cameras can promote transparency, accountability, and public safety, all while respecting privacy interests.”

 “Decades of distrust between communities of color and law enforcement have been magnified by the recent rash of police violence perpetrated against unarmed African-Americans,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  “National activists and advocates have called for changes in the way police interact with civilians, and the Police CAMERA Act will provide needed tools to address unlawful and deadly interactions.  While LDF supports this bill, we are under no illusions that it should be the only measure used to ensure responsible policing in communities across the country.  Body-worn cameras must be part of a broader reform effort that includes deescalation and racial-bias training, comprehensive data collection, and appropriate responses to police misconduct.”

“The Police CAMERA Act is an important step forward in addressing the deep-seated biases in our justice system that disproportionately harm communities of color and contributed to the tragic deaths of men like Eric Garner and Michael Brown,” said Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.  “By investing in body-worn cameras for police, the Police CAMERA Act will help protect the rights of all people and contribute to safer and more transparent law enforcement practices. We support the Police CAMERA Act, as one solution among many to these problems. We also need comprehensive training on implicit and explicit bias, strong prohibitions against discriminatory police practices like profiling, and increased data collection and accountability mechanisms for officer misconduct.”

“It is my hope that the benefits of the body-worn camera, as was shown with our pilot program, will be the gateway of creating and manifesting better relationships with our citizens through enhanced service delivery,” said Darryl D. Perry, Chief of Police of the Kauai Police Department. “I sincerely believe that body-worn cameras will provide an open and translucent atmosphere in law enforcement beyond our expectations.”