On Jan. 6, the federal government’s resistance to the use of body cameras for its police forces got renewed attention with the assault on the Capitol by supporters of President Trump seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election. While there was video footage from journalists chronicling the events as well as from the cellphones of Mr. Trump’s rioting supporters, there was no footage from the Capitol Police who were on the front lines of the insurrection. Had they been equipped with body cams, questions about their actions — as well as information about the atrocities committed against them — would have been easier to answer.
This is not the first time the lack of body-cam footage by federal law enforcement has been an issue. After unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar was shot to death in 2017 by two U.S. Park Police officers who conveniently were not wearing cameras, legislation was introduced by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) in 2018 that would require all federal uniformed police officers to wear cameras. The legislation passed the House last summer but has stalled in the Senate.
Even as the use of body cameras by local and state police agencies has increased, the Justice Department, with more than 43,000 sworn officers across the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Marshals Service, has resisted — as has the Capitol Police force, which reports to Congress. The assault on the Capitol has spurred, as The Post’s Tom Jackman reported, an Arizona congressman to introduce legislation mandating that Capital Police wear body cameras.
No doubt there are matters of privacy and sensitive issues of national security that federal agencies would need to deal with in implementing the use of body cameras. But, as the experience of local and state officials has shown, solutions can be devised to allow for transparency that enhances and doesn’t compromise public safety. Body cameras are not a magical solution to the ills or challenges that confront modern law enforcement, but they are a useful tool that should be employed by any police department that “believes the actions of its officers are a matter of public record.” We urge Congress to enact legislation that would require federal law enforcement to employ this valuable tool.