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Burlington Police Commission members say more discussion needed on bodycam policy

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 12:42 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 10:48 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington Police Commission has postponed making any changes to how it releases officer-worn body camera footage.

The commission was set to discuss and draft an outline at Tuesday’s meeting. Instead, commissioners voted unanimously to table the conversation until their next meeting. Commissioner Randall Harp initiated the motion around 8:45 p.m. to postpone the conversation, saying he wanted them to have more time to talk about it.

“This is not at all to underestimate the importance of it. I want to make sure we do it properly,” Harp told commissioners.

WCAX News spoke with Harp after the meeting and asked him what still needs to be discussed regarding the body camera policy and which issues need to be resolved. He says the police department currently does have a body camera policy, but it doesn’t explain when officer-worn body camera footage should or can be released to the public. Harp says the commission wants to increase police accountability.

“The department should have a policy in place that helps to determine when footage can be proactively released to the public when there are matters that the public may have interest in-- whether that’s matters of officer’s misconduct or other matters that might be of interest to the public,” he said. “And so right now, the department does not really have a policy that governs that and that’s probably because there are competing demands between transparency on one hand and protection of privacy rights on the other hand.”

Harp says one example of those privacy rights is when someone appears on body camera footage but doesn’t consent to have their images released. Harp says the commission will work to balance all of those competing interests.

The Vermont Supreme Court in a split decision last September sided with a Burlington resident who was denied free access to police body camera footage. In the summer of 2017, Burlington resident Reed Doyle says he witnessed a disproportionate police response to a playground fight at Roosevelt Park in the city’s Old North End. He said an officer pushed a teenage boy, which is why he wanted to see the police body camera footage. Then-Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo argued that in videos where minors are involved, they must redact portions to protect identities, which takes time. Doyle says he was also told it would cost hundreds of dollars. The ACLU of Vermont represented Doyle in the case.

The agenda item will be picked back up at the police commission’s next meeting in August.

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