Justice and Due Process

Why the Officers in Uvalde May Escape Accountability

Why did police hold their position for over an hour while waiting for backup as the nightmarish incident unfolded at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary? This is particularly concerning because there are numerous questions surrounding the actions of the police officers who responded to the incident. 

With only a small number of individuals knowing exactly what happened during the shooting and limited information being released from Texas officials, the general public is largely left in the dark about the horrific incident. 

With the absence of clear information, many are calling for the police officers at the scene to release their body cam footage of the incident. Uvalde officers first obtained body cameras in 2015 and just recently used city dollars to purchase even newer cameras. These cameras, under Texas law, must remain on during these officers’ work, and any footage obtained from these cameras during the shooting must be maintained.

Despite this, the public may never be able to see the body cam footage of police officers that responded to the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary school.  

Texas law mandates that body cam footage should only be made available to the public if they see the footage being released as furthering an investigation. If the determination is made that the footage does not further an investigation, Texas law grants law enforcement agencies broad discretion in determining when and if such footage is released. 

Such a broad policy allows law enforcement to use what’s known as the “dead suspect loophole.” This authorizes officers to not have to release information, including body camera footage, in criminal cases that aren’t processed in the court system. This law applies even when a suspect dies in police custody. 

With the gunman responsible for this atrocity deceased, police will have the ability to use the above-described loophole and avoid further scrutiny for their actions that day. 

The ability of law enforcement agencies to do this is problematic and calls for a thorough review by each state of their laws regarding access to body camera footage and law enforcement accountability.

While Utah is devoid of the exact same loophole, when examining Utah laws surrounding the use of body cameras, it becomes evident that change is needed. It is this exact change that Libertas has worked tirelessly to create.

Libertas has advocated for increased transparency in the use of body cameras by supporting a bill that would remove the provision in the law that allows officers to deactivate cameras while consulting with other officers or their supervisors. This means they would have to keep their camera turned on during the entirety of a critical incident. Additionally, Libertas has worked to pass legislation that would set statewide minimum standards for the use of body cameras in Utah, protecting the rights of all Utahns and providing consistency in the use of police body cameras.

Body camera footage is a modern-day advancement that provides victims of police misconduct with hard evidence to get justice. This also, of course, works the other way, shielding police officers from false or exaggerated accusations. At the end of the day, the light of transparency benefits all parties.