EDITORIAL: York City Police finally make right call on body camera policy
- The York City Police Department released its policy on the use of body cameras on Friday.
- The department initially refused a Right to Know request asking for the body camera policy.
- Studies indicate body cameras significantly reduce the number of times police officers use force.
Look, no one likes to have someone pry into his or her business.
We all value our individual right to privacy.
Governmental organizations, however, do not enjoy that same right. That's because their business is the people's business.
All of us, as taxpayers, deserve to know what our public servants are doing, and why.
It's part of the democratic process.
That's why it was disheartening when the York City Police Department initially turned down a March 4 Right to Know request from The York Dispatch for the department's policy on the use body cameras.
Chief Wes Kahley turned down the request because he said the use of body cameras was a work in progress.
The city announced the start of the pilot program with a news conference on Feb 15, saying the 14 officers taking part in the program were wearing cameras starting that day.
Kahley also said releasing the policy would be “giving a playbook” to criminals.
After the Dispatch appealed the denial to the state Office of Open Records on March 21, however, the department finally relented and released the body camera policy on Friday.
The skeptical among us might suspect that the timing of the decision was intentional. The “Friday dump” is a well-known tactic in political circles. With the weekend looming, many folks don't pay much attention to the news on Fridays. As a result, that's when many politicians opt to release unfavorable information.
In any event, however, it was encouraging that the department eventually did the right thing, even if it did take a little prodding.
After the information was released, you had to wonder what took so long. There really wasn't anything remotely controversial in the document. It's hard to imagine the information released would be of much help to any criminal.
After all, the policy is largely consistent with what interest groups, including the ACLU, recommend. Its guidelines include: officers will turn the cameras on whenever they are responding to a call or interacting with a member of the public; officers will not edit the videos; officers will turn off the cameras when entering a private residence or receiving personal information not related to a case, such as medical information; and video not being used as evidence will be deleted after 30 days. Anyone outside the department who wants to view video from a situation must file a request through the city's Right-to-Know officer.
The use of body cameras appears to be a win-win situation for everyone involved — the police, the prosecutors and the public.
Studies have indicated that body cameras significantly reduce the number of times police officers use force and also reduce complaints against officers.
It's almost certainly the way police work will be conducted in the future.
So why shouldn't the public know the policy governing the use of body cameras?
The short answer is, they should.
And even though it took a while, at least the York City Police Department finally came to that same conclusion.
Better late than never.