Proposed Body Camera Rules Are Ready For Lawmakers

Dec 23, 2016

The Department of Public Safety has finished its work on a model policy report for the use of police body cameras.

The Legislature asked the department to come up with the rules, which have been controversial, and difficult to finalize.

 The Law Enforcement Advisory Board was supposed to have the body camera report done before Dec. 15.

But the board was held up trying to walk the fine line between protecting the public's privacy and making sure police have the tools they need to do their jobs.

The board finalized its report Thursday.

Board chairman Rick Gauthier says the technology around body cameras is still emerging, and there isn't a wide body of evidence out there to help build a long ranging policy.

 "Some of the science and some of the techniques are continuing to evolve," Gauthier says. "We felt that the field of law enforcement needed the latitude to change best practices as best practices evolve."

The report will go to the Legislature, and lawmakers will then come up with a statewide body camera policy, which police agencies will have to use as a baseline for the rules they write for their departments.


One of the most heated debates centered on whether officers could review footage before writing a report.

Gauthier says he looked at policies that are already in play around Vermont and that the bulk of the new proposed statewide standards align with what most police agencies are already doing.

One of the most heated debates centered on whether officers could review footage before writing a report.

 "The Law Enforcement Advisory Board, Chief's Association, I believe the Sheriff's Association, probably the Vermont Police Association, were all strongly opposed — and I mean strongly opposed — to prohibiting officers from reviewing the contents of the recordings prior to making  their reports," Gautheir says.

The final proposed rules say police should be able to review the footage.

 Lia Ernst, staff attorney with ACLU Vermont, says whatever is or is not recorded can change how an officer perceives an event. Her organization opposes the rules as drafted.

"Just the mere act of looking at the footage affects your memory, or what you think you remember," Ernst says. "And so there seems to be no good reason that I can think of to not get an officer's statement on the record first, before that memory is effectively erased and recorded over by viewing the footage."

The policy will be debated this year in the Legislature and Ernst says the fight will continue in the Statehouse.

The ACLU is a strong advocate for having body cameras on police officers, but Ernst says it's vital that policies are written that protect the civil rights of anyone who happens to be in front of, or behind, the cameras.

"We believe that the use of body cams when they're not accompanied by a sound and responsible policy can actually be more corrosive of public trust and more harmful than good." - Lia Ernst, staff attorney ACLU Vermont

"We have many, many concerns about the policy as currently drafted. If it remains in that form with the provisions as they are now, our advocacy would switch 180 degrees to advocating against the use of body cams at all," she says. "We believe that the use of body cams when they're not accompanied by a sound and responsible policy can actually be more corrosive of public trust and more harmful than good."

The report also looked at the costs associated with purchasing and operating the body cams.

The proposed rules set up standards for the storage of recordings, when recordings can be released to the public, as well as when officers should have the cameras on or off.