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Should police be relinquishing control of body camera videos?

What we've got here, states a recent NPR news report, is "an ocean of video," coupled with the urgently outstanding question of who should be in charge of controlling its content and dissemination.

Currently, of course, police departments in North Carolina and elsewhere across the country routinely maintain custody and control over the video that is shot by officers wearing body cameras, with many of them using so-called "cloud storage" to maintain their footage. Reportedly, one provider manages more than four million hours of tape for enforcement agencies nationally.

Is that a good thing, namely, that law enforcers themselves keep a tight lid on videos featuring police-citizen encounters, given that the expressed goal of such tools is to foster accountability and credibility when questions concerning those encounters arise?

"If it's really a tool for accountability," says one university-affiliated principal with a policing and social justice initiative, "perhaps the footage should be under the control of an independent entity."

Indeed, perhaps it should be, especially given the apparent public distrust that seems to ratchet up whenever police departments balk at quickly releasing video that a wide audience is strongly clamoring to see.

A lack of standardized custody-and-release procedures regarding body camera videos can only exacerbate what is already a progressively growing public unease with the tool.

Release protocol "seems very ad hoc," says one analyst who has assisted police departments with their camera-access rules.

"[A]nd yes," he adds, "it makes people distrustful."

Until firm rules and regulations that instill public confidence take effect in law-enforcement departments across the country, it is likely that escalating tensions will surface with some regularity concerning police recordings and subsequent treatment of existing video.

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