December 19, 2016 1:30 pm

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The ACLU of Rhode Island has called on the Providence City Council to reject the proposed expenditure of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to purchase police body cameras unless and until clear, strong standards of transparency and accountability are in place for their use.

In a letter sent to the City Council at the end of last week, ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown noted:

“The ACLU has had correspondence with the police department and various city officials on this issue for well over a year. It has been our position that police body cameras have the ability to provide a helpful layer of transparency and accountability in police-community relations – if proper policies are in place. Unfortunately, they are not. The PPD’s current policy would allow the public to be kept in the dark if a troubling incident of police misuse of force were to be captured on these cameras. The policy also, in our opinion, is not sufficiently precise in making sure that encounters will be captured on tape from beginning to end. We question the expenditure of so much taxpayer money if, ultimately, the purchase is unlikely to promote trust in the community.”

The letter to the Council included a copy of earlier correspondence the ACLU had with Police Chief Hugh Clements, Jr., in which the ACLU pointed out that the recordings of some of the most highly-publicized police shootings in recent years – such as those involving Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, and Walter Scott, among others – could, if captured by Providence police body cameras, potentially be withheld from scrutiny under the police department’s current policy.

Last week, the Providence Board of Contract and Supply recommended purchase of the body cameras from Taser International, prompting the ACLU’s letter to the Council.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter can be found here:

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