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Capitol Police to launch body-worn camera pilot program

Around 70 officers will wear the equipment, but not inside the Capitol or office buildings

Capitol Police are seen on First Street NE, as demonstrators marched for abortion rights in 2022.
Capitol Police are seen on First Street NE, as demonstrators marched for abortion rights in 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Around 70 Capitol Police officers soon will be equipped with body-worn cameras, part of a pilot program to help determine if the department should use them.

Only those on duty outside will be wearing the body cameras, meaning no officers within the Capitol building or House and Senate office buildings will have them, according to three sources familiar with the department’s plans. Officers involved in direct interactions with lawmakers, such as Dignitary Protection Division special agents who protect and travel with leadership, won’t wear the cameras.

The first officers will be trained on the cameras and start wearing them in as soon as two weeks, and all officers in the program will start wearing the cameras as soon as March, one source said.

The bulk of the body-worn cameras will be concentrated among the officers who ride bicycles around the Capitol, K-9 officers and those on patrol in squad cars, the sources said. A smaller subset of officers with cameras will be posted outside of the House, Senate and Library of Congress buildings.

“We continue to make significant improvements with this latest initiative focused on protecting our officers and providing greater transparency,” Brianna Burch, a spokesperson for the department, said. “In the meantime, our teams are polishing up the proposed policy so we can roll out the pilot program details to the Department and start training the officers.”

Chief J. Thomas Manger has been a proponent of officer-worn cameras and oversaw their implementation when he led the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland.

Lawmakers included funding for the program in the fiscal 2023 appropriations package, and they made clear it was limited to officers working outside who were providing services directly to the public.

The House Appropriations Committee report language cited the need to protect “critical law enforcement-sensitive Member protection information that may be adversely impacted by the release of camera footage captured by a body worn camera” as well as constitutional protections under the Speech or Debate Clause.

The department is expected to issue an interim report within 180 days after the program is instituted that includes the progress of the initiative, along with challenges and recommended solutions.

Body camera footage can provide substantial details when there are violent interactions between the police and the public, such as when when five Memphis, Tenn., officers beat Tyre Nichols until he died or when George Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin.

A post-Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol Security Review Task Force report led by retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré recommended Capitol Police officers be equipped with body-worn cameras to “improve police accountability and protect officers from false accusations of misconduct.”

The report also said the cameras would give video and audio evidence that can verify what happened in a particular situation, providing an avenue for better investigations and prosecutions.

Some lawmakers, such as Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., have written to the Capitol Police Board, calling for them to make all uniformed officers wear body cameras.

The Department of Justice in 2021 required the heads of certain agency law enforcement components to develop policies on body worn cameras. And President Joe Biden in 2022 issued an executive order that called for leaders of federal law enforcement agencies to make sure their agencies issue policies aligned with or that exceed the DOJ policy requirements, including to make sure that those who patrol regularly or engage with the public in response to emergency calls wear and activate their devices during arrests and searches.

Gus Papathanasiou, the head of the Capitol Police union, did not respond to a request for comment about the program.

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