The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Congressman files bill requiring Capitol Police to wear body cameras

Most federal officers, including all from the Justice Department, do not wear cameras, despite widespread use by local police agencies.

A Los Angeles police officer wears a body camera during a demonstration for media in Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

A congressman from Arizona who is a staunch supporter of body-worn cameras for police filed a bill Tuesday which would mandate that the U.S. Capitol Police wear such cameras, saying that it would have helped with the investigation into the riot at the Capitol last week.

Very few federal police wear body cameras, even as they have spread through state and local police departments across the country. The Justice Department, with more than 43,000 sworn agents across the FBI, DEA, ATF and Marshals Service, does not use body-worn or in-car cameras. Justice officials have said cameras could compromise the secrecy of their tactics or the identity of witnesses.

A bill to require all federal uniformed police officers to wear cameras, inspired by the 2017 fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar by two U.S. Park Police officers who were not wearing cameras, was introduced by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D. C.) in 2018, and then included in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which passed the House last summer. But the bill has not moved in the Senate.

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

Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) introduced the bill. The bill states: “Each uniformed officer of the United States Capitol Police whose job duties include interacting with the general public shall utilize a body-worn camera and ensure that the body-worn camera is activated while on duty.”

But it exempts officers on personal protection details. A plain-clothed officer, possibly part of a Congress member’s personal detail, fired the shot which killed Ashli Babbitt near the Speaker’s Lobby on Jan. 6, video shows.

Stanton said in a news release that the cameras were imperative “for the safety of our Capitol Police officers, the public and everyone who works in the Capitol complex.” He said that “last week’s armed insurrection against our government and breach of the United States Capitol building stunned the world, and we have a lot to learn about what went wrong. But I’m certain that the investigation — and the process to hold those responsible to account — would be much more thorough if aided by footage from body cameras.”

Stanton introduced legislation last June, shortly after the death of Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, which would require state, local and tribal police departments to have body cameras, or have a plan to buy them, to receive federal grant funding. The bill was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and has not moved.

Although federal Justice Department officers don’t use cameras, some federal officers in the Interior Department use them, according to testimony at a recent congressional hearing. About 1,000 National Park Service rangers use body cameras, and more than 600 officers in the Fish and Wildlife Service also wear them.

Mother of Bijan Ghaisar, unarmed man slain by Park Police officers, calls on Congress to require body cameras

The Capitol Police are controlled by Congress, not any federal agency, and have about 2,000 sworn officers who do not wear cameras at any time.

The Justice Department took a step forward last October when it announced that it would allow state and local officers to wear cameras while participating on federal task forces. In 2019, police departments in Atlanta and St. Paul withdrew their officers from the task forces because of the federal ban on them. But after trying a pilot program which allowed the local officers to wear cameras, then-Attorney General William P. Barr announced last fall that local officers may now wear them.

Justice Department to allow local police to wear body cameras on federal task forces

But the federal members of those task forces still do not wear cameras.