Jun 15, 2019

Local police increasingly clash with federal law enforcement on body cameras

In this image, the Atlanta police chief speaks into a microphone from behind a podium.

Atlanta Chief of Police Erika Shields. Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Local police are increasing their use of body cameras, which often puts them at odds with the federal agents they work with — who "never wear body cameras," the Washington Post reports.

The big picture: A 2018 Justice Department survey found that 47% general-purpose law enforcement agencies had acquired body cameras by 2016. 80% of the largest local police departments, which employ 500 or more full-time sworn officers, had acquired body cameras by that time.

What's happening: Local police departments tell the Post the DOJ "has helped fund and train local police departments in body-camera use while ignoring federal use." When local officers work with federal agents on joint task forces, they are prohibited from wearing body cameras.

What they're saying:

  • “I believe they have an obligation to join us in 21st-century policing,” Todd Axtell, the St. Paul, Minnesota police chief, told the Post about federal agencies.“This is what they’ve been preaching. It’s ironic they aren’t complying with what they preach to be so important in policing.”
  • The Justice Department's lack of camera use is due to “safety and security concerns, such as protecting sensitive or tactical methods used in arresting violent fugitives or conducting covert investigations," a DOJ official told the Post.
  • “If you’re policing and you’re policing properly,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields told the Post, “you have nothing to fear” from wearing a body camera.

What to watch: Shields pulled Atlanta's officers from federal joint task forces with the DEA, the FBI and others after federal agents refused to wear body cameras — and chiefs in Houston and Austin are considering the same if a compromise isn't reached with federal agencies.

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