Police commission unlikely to meet deadline for updated bodycam policy

Published: Oct. 29, 2020 at 12:09 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Time is running out for the Burlington Police Commission to meet Mayor Miro Weinberger’s request to have a revised body camera footage release policy completed.

Weinberger sent the commission a memo in September, asking that they finalize a policy by the end of October. But commissioners say they need more time.

“I suspect we will not be able to meet that particular deadline because there’s still some things to discuss," Commissioner Randall Harp said at Tuesday’s meeting.

The police commission has been discussing making changes to the body camera footage release policy all summer. They continue debating the best practices of redacting and releasing video. But they still have questions on how to be transparent while at the same time protecting the privacy of those in the video who may not want videos of their face or voice released.

After a push from Weinberger to get it done by the end of the month, there’s still no new policy.

“It’s been too long without a clear policy about body camera footage release,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington. "It’s one of the things that’s caused distrust and some of the problems we’ve had, quite frankly, over the last couple of years is the lack of such policy.”

In the memo, Weinberger laid out principles he believes make up a good policy. That includes proactively releasing body camera footage within 30 days of an incident. That is, unless a criminal inquiry prevents the release due to a police use-of-force incident resulting in someone’s injuries or death, or if police batons, guns or aerosol agents were used.

Weinberger says in some rare cases, footage release may be delayed beyond 30 days to protect a victim or witness’s privacy or right to a fair trial. He also acknowledges that there are reasons the department must blur video or edit audio before releasing it, such as to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Weinberger says given the current staffing at the police department, they don’t have the capacity to fully redact videos consistent with the Vermont Public Records Act.

Weinberger also says any member of the public who would want access to the blurred footage or redacted audio could request that information in accordance with the Vermont Public Records Act.

He also suggested body camera footage be posted to a Burlington Police Department YouTube channel and sent to the media through a routine press release.

Commissioner Harp says the commission may possibly vote at their next meeting.

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