Mixed Messages

Body camera rules


The Department of Justice has given a thumbs-up to the idea that municipal police departments should furnish their officers with body cameras. Last year, announcing millions in matching grants to help law enforcement agencies pay for the equipment and training, then–Attorney General Eric Holder said: "Body cameras tend to reduce the number of complaints and are a very useful tool in trying to determine what was the nature of action between someone in the community."

That quote, from a February community meeting in Oakland, California, suggests that federal law enforcement officers would be thrilled to work with their camera-clad municipal counterparts. But in November, a full nine months after Holder praised the technology, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Department of Justice still hadn't proffered guidelines for using it when its own agents are involved.

As a result, federal organizations such as the U.S. Marshals are unwilling to work in task forces that include local law enforcement officers equipped with the very body cameras Washington is subsidizing. If local police want federal assistance in tackling violent crime, they have to put the cameras away, completely eliminating the transparency benefits the Justice Department has lauded.