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Federal body camera bill, inspired by Park Police killing of Bijan Ghaisar, included in House police reform package

Most uniformed federal officers don’t wear body cameras. That could change.

In 2018, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) discuss their proposed legislation to require federal uniformed officers to wear body cameras and to put cameras in federal patrol vehicles. (Tom Jackman/Tom Jackman/The Washington Post)

Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that some National Park Service rangers have body-worn cameras and in-car cameras.

A bill by two D.C.-area members of Congress to mandate body cameras for federal police officers, launched after the 2017 slaying of Bijan Ghaisar by two U.S. Park Police officers, got a jolt of momentum Monday when it was included in the House of Representatives’ wide-ranging legislation on police reform.

Most uniformed federal police officers, in a variety of agencies across the country, do not wear body cameras, and cameras are not installed in most marked federal police vehicles. About 1,000 National Park Service rangers are equipped with body cameras and many have in-car cameras, agency spokeswoman Alexandra Picavet said. Federal agencies say footage from the cameras could compromise their tactics or expose witnesses in their investigations.

So when Park Police officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard began pursuing Ghaisar down the George Washington Memorial Parkway on Nov. 17, 2017, they did not record the episode, which included Ghaisar stopping twice and then pulling away as the officers ran at him with their guns drawn.

A Fairfax County police lieutenant joined the pursuit, with his in-car camera activated, and captured the first two stops. When Ghaisar stopped in the Fort Hunt neighborhood of Fairfax, then pulled away a third time, the Fairfax camera recorded Amaya and Vinyard firing 10 shots into Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, killing him.

Video shows Park Police fired nine shots into Bijan Ghaisar’s Jeep at close range, killing him

Ghaisar, 25, was not armed and did not interact with the officers. The Justice Department decided against charging them last year; the Fairfax prosecutor is considering the case.

In November 2018, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the District in Congress, introduced a bill requiring all federal uniformed officers and all federal marked police vehicles to be equipped with cameras. When that session of Congress expired, Norton and Beyer introduced it against last year, but it did not get a hearing.

DC area lawmakers reintroduce bill requiring body-worn, in-car cameras for federal officers

“The events of last week virtually mandate passage of our bill,” Norton said in a news release, “just as local police throughout the United States do. … As the House works to reform policing across the country, we appreciate that today’s bill includes the body camera provision.”

Beyer said he was “mindful that the event which originally inspired this legislation, the killing of Bijan Ghaisar in 2017 by U.S. Park Police, has never been justified or explained. I hope that the Justice in Policing Act, in which our legislation was included, will help prevent similar injustices in the future.”

Norton and Beyer said they expected the House to pass the Justice in Policing Act “as soon as this month.”

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Federal officers aren’t necessarily opposed to the idea. When Beyer and Norton first proposed the idea, Pat O’Carroll, executive director of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said his officers support being equipped with cameras but would have several concerns. Officers would want to be equipped with the best technology available and be sure proper policies and procedures would be in place to handle the use, retention and release of the videos, O’Carroll said.

The rule against body cameras has created tension between federal and local police. After an Atlanta officer shot someone while serving on a federal task force, federal officials refused to allow Atlanta officers to wear cameras. So Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields pulled her officers out of all federal task forces, and chiefs in some other cities followed suit.

Federal task forces ban body cameras, so Atlanta police pull out. Others may follow.

In October, the Justice Department announced a pilot program in which local officers would be allowed to wear cameras on federal task forces in certain cities. Atlanta was not selected. Federal officers were not included in the program.

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