'Body Cameras for Thee—but Not When You're With Me'

Bureaucracy turns Department of Justice into hilarious hypocrites


Most transparent administration ever alert

The Department of Justice is pushing hard for law enforcement agencies to start wearing body cameras to improve transparency and relationships with the community. They're even offering grants to police departments to help them implement programs (though said body camera programs don't actually have to be good or improve transparency about police conduct to the public).

But the Wall Street Journal has discovered a problem that's kind of funny and kind of sad: Because the Department of Justice hasn't developed its own policies for body camera use, federal law enforcement agencies like U.S. Marshals don't want to partner with any officers that are actually using them in task forces:

The contradiction reveals the potential challenges for federal agencies that work closely with local police, such as the U.S. Marshals. And it underscores how slow the Obama administration has been to craft its own rules on cameras, even as it pushes local authorities to quickly adopt them in the wake of high-profile police shootings.

At a meeting of Marshals supervisors several weeks ago in Colorado, Assistant Director Derrick Driscoll announced that the agency wouldn't allow any local law-enforcement officers wearing body cameras to serve on Marshals task forces, according to several people who attended the meeting.

The Marshals Service, an agency within the Justice Department, runs scores of task forces around the country, teaming up with local police primarily to hunt fugitives and violent criminals.

Mr. Driscoll said at the meeting that because the Justice Department hadn't given his agency rules on body cameras, the Marshals couldn't allow local police with recording equipment to work alongside them on task forces, the people who attended the meeting said. That's because when local officers join task forces, they must follow federal rules of operation, and for now that means no body cameras.

These task forces are not uncommon and are used to tackle gang problems and for drug sweeps. The failure of the DOJ to set rules in place means that if one of these police actions go awry, there may not be decent footage to see what actually happened.

If the DOJ is looking for tips on how to implement body cameras on their own agents, check out this "best practices" guide by former Reasoner Matthew Feeney, now a political analyst for the Cato Institute. 

(Hat tip to former Reason editor Radley Balko.)