DC Rep Introduces Legislation Calling for Federal Law Enforcement Body Cameras

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced legislation this week that would require uniformed federal police officers to wear body cameras and have dashboard cameras in police vehicles. Norton and Beyer have framed this as an issue of public transparency following recent decisions by state and local law enforcement departments to withdraw from federal task forces due to a lack of oversight cameras.

In a press release announcing the legislation on Wednesday, Norton and Beyer argue the legislation would protect police officers and the public.

“Evidence consistently shows that body cameras help determine the facts and increase transparency of policing across the country,” Norton said.  “The federal government is late acknowledging that state and local law enforcement, including D.C.’s Metropolitan Police, already utilize best practices with encouraging results.  These measures have been successful.”

Norton and Beyer also made note of the November 2017 shooting of an unarmed 25-year-old named Bijan Ghaisar in Virginia by US Park Police. A dashboard camera from a Fairfax County Police Department captured images of the moments leading up to the altercation.

Norton noted, “Without access to these new tools, families like the Ghaisars would be left wondering what transpired and who should be held accountable.  Particularly in the District, where there are many federal officers, including those with local policing powers, we must ensure federal officers are held as accountable to the public for their actions as local and state police.”

The investigation into Ghaisar’s death remains ongoing.

The push for federal law enforcement body cameras comes largely from state and local law enforcement agencies who are currently banned from wearing body cameras when operating in conjunction with federal task forces.

When a federal task force works with a state or local law enforcement agency on combatting a particular issue, such as gang violence, the non-federal law enforcement officers must surrender their cameras to protect the “sensitive or tactical methods used in arresting violent fugitives or conducting covert investigations,” the Justice Department has said.

As a result, several state and local law enforcement entities have considered pulling out of federal law enforcement task forces in an effort to breed public trust.

As tensions mount between divisions of law enforcement, Beyer and Norton hope this legislation will reduce the conflict and confusion.

“Body cameras increase the transparency and public trust in law enforcement, and all federal police should wear them,” Beyer said in the press release.

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