Senate spending bill demands body-camera report from Park Police
Department was criticized for its role in the clearing of demonstrators from Lafayette Square in June
The U.S. Park Police would be required to turn over data about body cameras, police shootings and its officers’ authority outside national parks under a Senate spending bill introduced this week.
A division of the Interior Department, the Park Police — like other local and federal police departments — has resisted using body cameras, often making it difficult to investigate allegations of police misconduct.
The Interior-Environment spending bill for fiscal 2021, which the Senate Appropriations Committee released Tuesday, directs Interior to complete a report the committee ordered during the appropriations process for fiscal 2020 about body camera use.
In that report from last year, the committee called for the department to disclose, once the Interior-Environment bill for fiscal 2020 became law, the USPP’s policies on how and when body cameras are used and how footage is stored.
Appropriators also last year directed Interior to compile statistics on “use-of-force incidents for each of the last five fiscal years, including the number of officers involved in shootings,” as well as “the agency's standard operating procedures relating to officers' authority outside” national parks.
Interior has not turned in the data on the three topics, according to Senate appropriators, and in an explanatory statement for the fiscal 2021 bill, the committee criticized DOI for failing to furnish the report it ordered. The committee gave the department 90 days after the new spending bill becomes law to comply.
Spokespeople for Interior and the Park Police did not respond to requests for comment.
Resistance to body cameras from the USPP has come under scrutiny after USPP officers, joined by federal and state police agencies, aggressively cleared Lafayette Square on June 1, using batons, riot shields and pepper balls on protesters demonstrating against police violence.
Those protests were sparked after police killed George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, days before.
The USPP is responsible for policing federal parks in New York, San Francisco and Washington, national sites in those cities and parkways nearby, such as the George Washington Memorial Parkway.
The lack of body cameras made the USPP shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old Virginia man, in 2017 in northern Virginia, difficult to document.
Dashboard cameras county authorities in Virginia released contributed to the case, and the two officers who shot Ghaisar were charged with manslaughter last month in Fairfax County.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., have pushed a broad police reform package in the House that would require federal police, including USPP, to wear body cameras.
Asked about the Senate language, Beyer said in a statement to CQ Roll Call that police transparency is a bipartisan issue.
“Congress has sent the clear message to the U.S. Park Police that it demands better transparency from its officers, including universal adoption of body-worn cameras,” Beyer said. “That message has been sent in hearings, and in legislative text, from both chambers and with support from both parties,” he said. “Even so U.S.P.P. continues to stonewall basic transparency and accountability measures.”
The Interior inspector general is investigating the police tactics in clearing Lafayette Square.
In July, Gregory Monahan, the acting chief of the Park Police, defended the officers involved in the June 1 clearing.
He denied the operation was tied to a photo opportunity for President Donald Trump, who walked over minutes later to pose in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church and hold aloft a bible.
Monahan told the House Natural Resources Committee there is a written log of the events that day but that audio records were lost, breaking from procedure.