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Police body cam footage must be released immediately 

Voice of Reason

On Aug. 3, 19-year-old De’Von Bailey, a robbery suspect, was shot and killed by at least one Colorado Springs Police officer. The City of Colorado Springs and the Colorado Springs Police Department said in a joint news release that body cam footage of the incident would be made public by the end of this week, nearly two weeks after the shooting occurred.

“As the releasing authority, CSPD has committed to releasing the footage only at such a time when it will not jeopardize or compromise the investigative or judicial process,” the Aug. 9 joint statement said.

Police say Bailey reached for a gun before they shot him. Several eyewitnesses say he was fleeing and was shot in the back. The release of video from a nearby surveillance camera shows the conclusion of the incident, but a building obstructs a view of how it started. There have already been angry protests and threats of violence because of law enforcement’s lack of transparency — tensions are high and nobody except those who were present (and are still breathing) can say exactly what occurred that Saturday evening.

But clear evidence of what happened already exists — that’s why CSPD has invested in body cams. Going forward, that evidence needs to be released without delay.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has taken over investigation of the CSPD shooting as is outlined in 2015’s Senate Bill 219, enacted to build transparency into peace officer-involved shooting investigations. But while SB-219 let the sunlight in to such incidents, law enforcement uses the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act to bring back the clouds, giving involved agencies discretion over the release of much of the relevant information and data — even allowing them to block public access to body cam footage. In the Bailey case, beyond the loss of immediate transparency, withholding body cam footage has allowed disagreements over the basic facts of the incident to fester in the community.

So how do law enforcement agencies across the nation maintain transparency in their responses to police-involved shootings?

An article in The Red & Black, a newspaper published at the University of Georgia, describes how footage from a July 1 shooting involving the Athens-Clarke County Police Department was made public at a press conference the next day, along with the suspect’s name and the names of both responding officers.

According to The Seattle Times, police released body cam footage early last month showing two officers ordering a woman in the Chinatown International District to stop moving, then firing at her after she threw what the police say was a gun.

Khamsao Vilaikham was shot in the shoulder and her injuries were not life-threatening. The shooting happened on a Wednesday. By that Friday, the public was able to see what had transpired.

On July 11, Hannah Williams, 17, was shot and killed by police in California’s Bay Area after brandishing a BB gun during a traffic incident. That body cam footage was released the next day.

“In an effort to be transparent with the community that we serve, the Fullerton Police Department is releasing its second Critical Incident Community Briefing, which will provide details to the community about the incident, as we know them today,” the Fullerton Police said in a statement released within two days of the shooting, reported on the Bay Area’s ABC Channel 7.

Mayor John Suthers made a statement last week regarding the Bailey shooting, an incident that has garnered national media attention in a city known for climbing the charts of desirability.

“We know that there can be frustration with the time this takes, but we cannot compromise the investigation by failing to spend the appropriate time gathering the facts; that would serve no one,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a Newsweek article. “A credible investigation and charging decision takes time and I ask the community to exercise patience as we allow the investigative and judicial process to work.”

But the body cam video — a public record — could have been released and the investigation could have continued wherever it led.

When public servants discharge their weapons in the line of duty and take the life of a civilian, their employers (the citizens) shouldn’t have to wait and wonder. Law enforcement should release the body cam footage ... to maintain transparency, to prevent unnecessary dissension and to let the community begin to heal.

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