Questions Abound After Fatal Shooting Is Captured by Cops' Own Camera

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"These cop cams are being seen more and more around the country, and we think they can be very good as long as there are strict rules on how the video is handled, so that it can't be edited on the fly," says Mr. Stanley. "We're against the government taping random people all the time, but when surveillance is used as a check and balance against the government, it's a good thing and can help the officers as well."

Yet video evidence is not a cure-all, say others.

"The tendency is to think that video tape can't lie," says Robert Mintz, head of the government investigations and white collar criminal defense practice group for McCarter & English, a law firm in Newark, N.J. "But what this brings up once again are the questions of what happened just prior to the video, and what is happening outside the frame. There are lots of incidents in which videos give a misleading impression of what occurred, and both sides can take advantage of that."

Moreover, privacy concerns should be paramount. If the videos were ever to become public, there would need to be ways of protecting the rights and safety of individuals caught on tape who have nothing to do with the event.

"It could be dangerous for witnesses to be shown on TV, which could identify them publicly as someone a violent gang should neutralize as a matter of good business practice," says Joel Jacobsen, assistant attorney general, criminal appeals division for New Mexico. "It also seems like a real invasion of privacy to show the distress of someone who was present at the crime scene only by coincidence and has no desire to be shown on TV in a state of hysterical fear."

The Oakland Police Department does not make its videos public, but citizens can file public-information requests, just as they would for a police report, spokeswoman Johnna Watson says. She would not discuss the details of the case, but said it was department policy for an officer involved in a shooting to receive three days administrative leave before returning to work. An investigation is ongoing, she added.

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