South Portland Police Department releases its body camera policy

Barry Rizk, a Colorado Springs, Colorado police officer, poses with Digital Ally First Vu HD body worn cameras on his chest in downtown Colorado Springs April 21, 2015. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Barry Rizk, a Colorado Springs, Colorado police officer, poses with Digital Ally First Vu HD body worn cameras on his chest in downtown Colorado Springs April 21, 2015. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

The South Portland Police Department has released the document that spells out its officers should use the body cameras that they will begin wearing in a few weeks.

The department posted the policy on its Facebook page following calls from civil liberties advocates for assurance the the cameras will not be used to invade people’s privacy. The policy was not initially released when the department announced that it would begin using the technology. The ACLU of Maine filed a public records request for the document, according Legal Director Zach Heiden.

Privacy advocates worry that footage of people’s personal lives could made public. Police body camera recordings are subject to Maine public records law, according to Heiden, although the policy provides exceptions for footage pertinent to open investigations.

South Portland’s policy does not dictate that police preemptively turn off the cameras when entering a private home, although it does say that they should be turned off if “specifically requested” by someone with a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Likewise, the cameras should be turned off when explicitly requested by an witness or victim being interviewed.

The policy does instruct officers to turn off the cameras when having them on might compromise police work. For instance, officers should turn them off when dealing with undercover officers or confidential informants, or when discussing policy or tactics. It also says they should also be turned off when conducting a strip search.

Police officers will begin wearing them during calls for service and routine police work following a Jan. 18 public meeting about the cameras and must don them “in an unobstructed location on the front of their bodies,” according to the document. The cameras will be switched-on during regular police work — including searches of suspects, during prisoner transports and high-risk tactical incidents or responses, the policy states.

The cameras should not be used specifically to record activities protected by the First Amendment, the policy states, but it makes exceptions for when police are doing crowd control at events, such as protests.  

Body camera recording must be retained for at 180 days and those being used as evidence should be kept until the case is closed, according to the policy.