Denver Police Challenge Body Camera Policy

     DENVER (CN) – Denver’s police union sued the city, claiming its new body camera policy will violate the privacy of victims, suspects and witnesses, and was enacted with required consultations with the officers that will wear them.
     The Denver Police Protective Association sued the City and County of Denver in state court Tuesday, challenging the policy and the process by which it was instituted. It would allocate $6 million to buy 800 body cameras to be worn by uniformed officers.
     “The city issued its body camera policy on September 1 without ever receiving input from the officers who are tasked with operating the tool,” the union said in a statement. “The City Charter requires that the city negotiate with the Association over matters of ‘personal safety and health equipment’ for an obvious reason – if the officers employing body cameras distrust their use in the field, this vital policing tool will fail at its inception.”
     The police union says in the lawsuit that it does not object to the body cameras themselves, but to the way the policy was passed.
     “The Association generally supports the use of body cameras,” the union said. “It objects to the city’s failure to seek input from the 1,310 Denver police officers represented by the Association.”
     But Deputy Police Chief Matt Murray said the city had gone to great lengths to involve the officers.
     “We have had officers involved in the policy since Day 1,” Murray told CBS News. “We had a committee of officers who actually were in a pilot program with about 100 cameras.
     “We understand that the (union) has a position, and they have the right to litigate that position through the courts, and that’s the choice they are making.
     “We as a city are moving forward with body cameras.”
     The police union says the policy was “hastily adopted,” and that in cases such as incest or rape, it could invade the privacy of civilians, and endanger the safety and privacy rights of its officers.
     “Without a doubt, capturing video of an incident that tears at the fabric of a family, such as the aftermath of domestic violence, is a serious proposition,” the union said in the statement.
     Professor Alan Chen, who teaches constitutional law and civil rights at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, says the benefits of the cameras outweigh the potential problems.
     “While it is important that there be privacy protections for those who are observed by police body cameras, on balance there is great social value in accurate, video recordings of interactions between citizens and police officers,” Chen told Courthouse News.
     “Video recording’s unique ability to accurately document interactions can provide individuals with evidence that may contradict official accounts of an event – or perhaps deter official misconduct from occurring simply by its availability.”
     Chen said the cameras will protect police officers as well.
     “Body or car-mounted police video cameras may allow officers to protect themselves from inaccurate or fabricated allegations of their own conduct,” Chen said.
     The city policy, 7 pages long, lists situations in which officers must activate their cameras, from routine traffic stops and the reading of Miranda rights, to confrontations that become “adversarial,” weapons calls, and use of force to enter a home or car.
     The union wants the policy enjoined as a breach of its collective bargaining agreement, a breach of the City Charter and breach of faith, and wants the city and county ordered to negotiate a new policy. It is represented by Sean Olson.
     Neither the police union nor the City Attorney’s Office responded to requests for comment.

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