Missing Body Camera Videos: Evidentiary Fairness Beyond Blame
43 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 19, 2017
Responding to calls for accountability, transparency and better evidence, police departments have rapidly adopted body cameras. Recording policies require the police to record more law enforcement encounters than ever before. But what happens if officers do not record? This is an important growing area of controversy. Based on the collection and coding of police department body camera policies, this article reveals widespread detection and enforcement gaps regarding failures to record as required. More than half of the major-city departments in the sample have no provisions on consequences for not recording as required — and several have protections against discipline.
The article discusses how the labor-management structure of departments and the individual-blame nature of disciplinary processes render internal departmental enforcement of recording rules challenging. As the central framers of conduct rules for police and gatekeepers of evidence, courts have an important role to play in addressing the missing video problem. The challenge is how to frame remedies that avoid judicial inquiry deterrence — reluctance to address missing video issues because it would entail messy and costly collateral mini-trials on whether recordings are missing for legitimate reasons or due to officer malfeasance. This article proposes three judicial pretrial remedies that proceed from a more administrable evidentiary fairness perspective: exclusion of partial recordings, favorable inferences, and pattern and practice detection harnessing systemic facts accumulated by courts across criminal cases.
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