Nationwide, police have shot and killed 760 people since January, according to a Washington Post database tracking every fatal shooting. Of those, The Post has found 49 incidents captured by body camera, or about 6 percent.
Just 21 of those videos — less than half — have been publicly released. And in several of those cases, the footage, as in Burlington, was severely cut or otherwise edited.
Meanwhile, virtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted their officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators, The Post found. Civil and human rights groups fear that access could help rogue officers tailor their stories to obscure misconduct and avoid prosecution.
“What point is there of even doing this if they are going to be treated this way? Why even spend the money on these cameras?” said Burlington Mayor Shane McCampbell, who has called on police to release video of the Steele shooting. He noted that police promised greater openness last year when they petitioned the city to buy body cameras.
If the videos “are going to be a secret, no one is being held accountable,” McCampbell said. “And that was the point.”
While individual police departments are adopting rules on the local level, police chiefs and unions are lobbying state officials to enshrine favorable policies into law. In 36 states and the District this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create statewide rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency.
Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted, The Post found. Eight of those expanded the use of body cameras. However, 10 set up legal roadblocks to public access in states such as Florida, South Carolina and Texas. And most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.