The D.C. Council ended months of arguments Tuesday and approved a plan that would allow most footage captured by police wearing body cameras to be accessible to the public.
The decision, which paves the way for some 2,400 cameras to hit the streets by next summer, received the council’s unanimous support, despite members’ concerns about privacy.
The bill rolls back parts of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s original proposal, which would have allowed police to block public access to most footage in the interest of protecting personal privacy, but it maintains exemptions for footage shot inside homes.
Both Council Judiciary Committee Chairman Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who authored the revised bill, and Bowser’s office declared victory.
“I think what we’re doing here is one of the most expansive and thorough regulatory schemes in the country,” McDuffie said. While it’s unlikely to please everyone, the bill represented “a compromise that we made over eight months.”
A spokesman for Bowser (D), Michael Czin, said the legislation, resulting from “a robust back and forth,” brings the city “one step closer” to the mayor’s overarching goal of getting the District’s beat cops outfitted with cameras.
Council members David Grosso (I-At Large) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said during a council breakfast meeting Tuesday that they remained concerned about the plan’s transparency, including the provision that protects footage shot inside a person’s home from the public.
Meanwhile, Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) said he was worried about parts of the legislation that limited the use of body cams at schools, arguing that in some criminal cases police should be able to both record footage and make it available.
Under the revised plan, police assigned to District schools will be able to record video footage of “critical” altercations or during emergencies. Footage from incidents inside homes and schools will also be available for use in court proceedings through the normal discovery process, McDuffie said.
Bowser’s plan marks a breakthrough nationally in body-camera disclosure law as states from New York to California wrestle with similar concerns. Large police departments have generally opted against releasing video.
Also Tuesday, council members Silverman and Grosso each proposed bills aimed at curbing the influence of wealthy donors and companies in District political campaigns.
The proposals come in the wake of a recent controversy surrounding a political action committee that allowed Bowser to raise unlimited campaign contributions in a non-election year. FreshPAC, named after Bowser’s “fresh start” campaign slogan, collected $10,000 donations from several individuals, including some who had recently won political appointments or city development deals. The PAC was dissolved last month after mounting criticism from council members and local activists.
Grosso said Tuesday that his bill would eliminate the off-year fundraising loophole and would create a system of public campaign financing similar to laws passed in several other states, including Connecticut and Maine.
Silverman’s bill would limit campaign donations to those coming from individual donors, rather than major corporations. “This bill will specify that only people can make contributions to a candidate’s political committee,” she said, adding that the provision would “alleviate pressure” on local businesses that currently feel compelled to donate to win city contracts.
Both council members said such legislation would boost civic engagement among District voters, who they said have felt disenfranchised by the power of big donors.
Bowser’s spokesman Czin said that the mayor’s office had not yet seen the bills but that it would “take a close look at the legislation.”