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France: Police to Be Required to Wear Body Cameras

(Nov. 24, 2015) On October 26, 2015, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that police officers would soon be required to wear body cameras as part of their standard equipment. (Pierre de Cossette, Police: le port des “caméras piétons” généralisé [Police: The Wearing of “Body Cameras” to Become Routine], EUROPE 1 (Oct. 26, 2015).) Up to 4,500 cameras will be ordered for that purpose.  (Id.)  The measure is touted as a way not only to prevent police misconduct and racial profiling, but also to protect police officers from challenges to their accounts of interactions with individuals and from violence.  (Des caméras-piétons pour les forces de l’ordre, ça sert à quoi? [What Is the Purpose of Body Cameras for Police Forces?], L’EXPRESS (Oct. 26, 2015).)

Body cameras have been used in France on an experimental basis for the last three years. (de Cossette, supra.)  The experiment has been considered successful in reducing tensions between police officers and the public.  (Id.)  It appears that at least part of this tension-reducing effect comes from the fact that the cameras include a small screen that faces the individual interacting with the police officer.  The individual is therefore aware that he/she is being filmed and that the footage may be held as potential evidence against him/her.  (Id.)

The new measure seems to be largely welcomed by police officers, according to news reports. (Willy Le Devin, Police: feu orange pour les caméras-piéton [Police: Orange Light for Body Cameras], LIBÉRATION (Nov. 12, 2015).) There has been some criticism of the practice from anti-discrimination advocacy groups, however.  Objections have been raised to the fact that, under the government’s current plan on the use of the equipment, police officers can turn the cameras on and off at their sole discretion.  (Id.)  The plan also raises privacy concerns and questions of when and how citizens will be able to access recorded footage of their interactions with the police.  (Id.)

Making body cameras part of the standard equipment of police officers will require the adoption of a legislative framework for it. Reportedly, the measure will probably be part of new legislation to be discussed by the French Parliament in early 2016.  (Des caméras-piétons pour les forces de l’ordre, ça sert à quoi?, supra.)

This article was prepared with the assistance of Law Library of Congress Intern Chloé Gillenwater.