Grants awarded through this program would last for two years, with 50 percent of the grant money being handed out right when it's awarded. The remaining 50 percent would be distributed only after the law enforcement agency has established policies and guidelines for using the cameras, storing and destroying the data they gather, how to release stored data, and shared the new policies with the public.
Funding for this program would be capped at $10 million for 2015 and 2016. The amount of money that the government forks over for any of the body camera programs could not exceed 75 percent of the program’s total cost.
The system that stores the data from the body cameras would log all viewing, modification, or deletion of stored data in order to prevent unauthorized access or disclosure of stored data. Law enforcement officers would be prohibited from accessing the system without authorization.
Data gathered through the body cameras in these programs would only be used for collecting crime-related evidence, investigating misconduct, and for some training purposes. The transfer of data to another law enforcement or intelligence agency would be prohibited, except for:
Criminal investigations where there is reasonable suspicion that the requested data contains evidence related to that investigation.
Civil rights claims investigating any right, privilege, or immunity that is protected by the Constitution or laws of the U.S.
Applications would be made to the Assistant Attorney General by the chief executive of a state, local government, or Indian tribe. Within 90 days of this bill’s enactment the Assistant Attorney General would release the requirements of the grant application process.
Within two years of grants being disbursed, the Assistant Attorney General would conduct a study on the impact of body cameras on the use of force by police officers, on public safety, storage issues, and best practices. This study would be sent to Congress within 180 days of its completion.
Body cameras have been at the center of police accountability debates, long before Michael Brown and Eric Garner were household names. The police shooting of Walter Scott in April 2015 again turned national attention to the question, "Are body cameras the answer to avoiding excessive, and sometimes fatal, police force?" As the National Journal explains:
"Michael Slager, the police officer who killed Walter Scott [in] North Charleston, wasn't wearing a body camera. But video shot by a bystander showed Slager shooting Scott eight times in the back as he was running away, leading to murder charges for the officer on Tuesday. Without that footage, advocates say, the outcome of the deadly encounter would've been different.
"The shooting would never have moved into the consciousness of Americans but for that camera," said Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, who's introduced legislation supporting police body cameras. The case for police officers to wear them "was made as profoundly in [North Charleston] as it could be made.""
Critics of body camera programs maintain that they get trumpeted as the silver bullet to the issue of excessive police force. Some fear that implementing body cameras will make the public relax, and lessen the emphasis on good training, and better policies on use of force — not to mention the concerns about privacy and data storage. The federal government has yet to set regulations on how law enforcement agencies should handle the data they collect — but the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) has a pretty handy guidebook
of "Recommendations and Lessons Learned."
A similar version of this bill was introduced in December 2014, but it failed to get out of committee before the end of the 113th Congress.
Sponsoring Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) Press Release
ACLU (In Favor)
California Magazine (Context)
Office of Justice Programs (Context)
Wall Street Journal (Context)
LA Times (Context)