How do police decide when to release video footage?

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Marchers protest the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., September, 24, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Miczek - RTSPA6K

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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:  Wesley Lowry of the “Washington Post” is in Charlotte and he joins me now.

There is a much larger amount and volume of camera footage from police departments around the country, but there doesn’t seem to be a consistent policy.  And when you look at maybe even the top 20 police departments, there’s differences in whether or not they’re using it and how they’re using it.

WESLEY LOWERY, WASHINGTON POST:  You know, one thing is about body cameras and dash cameras.  You know, like this video is in many ways a new frontier for police.  Civil activists say this all the time.  The police shootings aren’t new.  What’s new is the video.  You know, unarmed man or the person who had a weapon planted, and so often, we didn’t believe those people.  We believed the police officers.  And now, we have video that in some cases shows us the officers’ stories are not true.

However, the spread of cameras, you know, and there was a huge spread of cameras, especially post-Ferguson — there still remains not a ton of best practices or set of standards for how those cameras are deployed.  You will see a lot of instances in which officers aren’t turning them on or not turning them on until after.  But then, on top of that, there are no best practices governing the release of this video.  So, you have a public record that’s being created by taxpayer dollars, these videos, but when are they released and when are they not released?

You know, our review found while many were shootings were being caught on camera this year than last year, not more of them are being released.  In fact, it’s more likely than not when a fatal shooting is captured on camera, it will not be released to the public.  Rather, it will be something that the police department holds on to.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Some police departments say, hey, we don’t try cases in the court of public opinion.  We don’t stack all the pieces of evidence out there as we get it.  And that, sometimes, this release of the videos could actually jeopardize the investigation.

WESLEY LOWERY: You know, I think we very often hear that.  I think it would be really interesting to interrogate that further, right?  I mean, the man’s name is a piece of evidence.  The idea that he was armed is a piece of evidence.  Even saying that is a piece of evidence that theoretically could help color the perception of witnesses, right, because now they’ve heard from the police he was armed.  So, now, maybe they remember a weapon in his hand.

And the other thing that’s interesting here — and this comes from our reporting as well — in many of these cases, the officers themselves are allowed to watch the video before writing their statements.  And so, you are potentially changing their statement because they are given the benefit of seeing the video.  Could that not have an impact on the investigation?

In a post-Ferguson world, I have heard people argue that when you put out factual information, it prevents some people who did not really see things from coming out and claiming themselves to be witnesses, or helps you weed out people who clearly did not see what happened.  That’s one of the arguments I’ve heard from several sides here.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  All right.  Wesley Lowery of “The Washington Post”, joining us from Charlotte tonight — thanks so much.

WESLEY LOWERY: Anytime.  Thank you.

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