Whatever Else Comes From the #NoDAPL Protests, Let’s Get North Dakota Cops Some Body Cameras

Police body cameras are seen on a mannequin at an exhibit booth by manufacturer Wolfcom at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

One frustrating aspect of the #NoDAPL protests is how often the protesters, and their media sympathizers, flood social media with heavily edited video and photographers purporting to show North Dakota law enforcement officers behaving unprofessionally.

Say what you want about the protest movement, but their propaganda game is strong.

It also demonstrates just how important it is to equip North Dakota cops with body cameras. In this digital age we can count on just about every interaction between law enforcement and the public to be recorded, and perhaps even live streamed, for the internet. Given that reality, it’s high time cops had their own record.

The Legislature should fund cameras for every law enforcement department in the state.

Some of the state’s law enforcement departments have embraced body cameras, but by no means all of them. Nor has the Legislature done much in the way of addressing the potential for body cameras with policy. During the 2015 session lawmakers passed HB1264 which exempted footage from law enforcement body cameras taken in “private places” from open records requests.

The state needs to do more. The Legislature should fund cameras for every law enforcement department in the state. It will be expensive, I know, and the state is going to enter this budgeting cycle looking for ways to cut spending rather than expand it. But the #NoDAPL situation proves just how important these cameras should be.

And in addition to funding the cameras, lawmakers should pass more detailed legislation defining specifically when law enforcement officers must have their cameras on, when they are allowed to turn them off, and what footage from the cameras is available to the public as well as how long law enforcement must retain their footage.

On that last point, lawmakers should ensure there is only very little footage exempted from public requests. Law enforcement is facing more scrutiny than ever. It doesn’t serve cops or the state or the public well to clamp down on the flow of information. The law  should mandate that video from these cameras be available promptly upon request from anyone in the public.

This needs to happen, and sooner rather than later. Just think what an impact such footage would have on coverage of the #NoDAPL protests. I think it would help tell law enforcement’s side of the story which, frankly, is getting lost in the aforementioned propaganda.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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