In the aftermath of the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and similar deaths of unarmed black men, police departments around the country faced public pressure to begin using body cameras. They have been touted as a way to increase police transparency by allowing for a neutral view of whether an officer’s actions were justified.
The Associated Press tested that transparency for Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of open government, by filing open records requests related to roughly 20 recent use-of-force incidents in a dozen states.
It found that police departments routinely withhold video taken by body-worn and dashboard-mounted cameras that show officer-involved shootings and other uses of force. They often do so by citing a broad exemption to state open-records laws _ claiming that releasing the video would undermine an ongoing investigation.
The story, described below, moved in advance on Monday for use on Wednesday and throughout the rest of Sunshine Week, which is held each year to focus attention on access to public information, open government and journalism’s role in promoting transparency.
Sunshine Week coverage is a collaborative effort between the AP, Associated Press Media Editors and the American Society of News Editors, which launched the first national Sunshine Week in 2005. The week coincides with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, father of the Constitution and a key advocate of the Bill of Rights.
As a companion piece, the AP also is re-launching its Sunshine Hub, a digital tool that tracks anti- and pro-transparency legislation in every state.
Visit http://sunshineweek.org to see all the ASNE content around Sunshine Week. It includes examples from newspapers around the country of “journalism wins,” including accountability stories and communities helped through journalistic efforts. Those can be found http://sunshineweek.org/2018-
For information about the overall project, contact Tom Verdin, editor of the AP’s state government team, at email@example.com
Additional opinion columns, editorial cartoons, logos and other materials are available in the Sunshine Week Toolkit.
Sunshine Week 2019 is made possible by an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and by a generous donation from The Gridiron Club and Foundation.
Sunshine Week budget
Moved in advance on Monday, March 11, for use Wednesday and thereafter:
Police officers are suspended after allegedly beating a teen suspect in West Virginia. An Iowa police sergeant is fired over a traffic stop involving a black teenager that he insists he handled appropriately. And a 22-year-old Georgia man ends up dead after a struggle with a trooper and allegedly shooting himself, an explanation his friends doubt. Each incident was captured by officers’ body cameras in recent months, and the videos could show the public whether the police acted appropriately or not. But in each case, police departments have refused to release the videos in response to public records requests by The Associated Press. Body cameras have been sold to the public and policymakers in recent years as a breakthrough tool to increase transparency in policing and build public trust. But a review by the AP for Sunshine Week finds that departments routinely withhold videos of high-profile shootings and other incidents for months when requested, if they ever release them at all. A patchwork of state laws and local policies around the country gives great discretion to police departments to determine whether, and when, to release the videos. By Ryan J. Foley. 1,600 words. Photos. Video. An Abridged version also is moving.
_ Sunshine Hub, an online transparency tool developed by AP for its customers’ use that tracks state legislative attempts to alter the flow of public information.
ABOUT SUNSHINE HUB:
Sunshine Hub is an online transparency tool that can be accessed by AP customers. The news organization worked with freedom of information experts to create the tool, which tracks state legislative attempts to alter the flow of public information. This includes bills that seek to make certain information off-limits to the public or harder to access.
The bills have been collected here: https://sunshine.ap.org
The link is accessible to anyone with an AP member account. Members who have not signed up for other AP services can create an account through APImages. After registering, the newly created account credentials can be used to access the Sunshine Hub.
The hub provides detailed information about each bill dealing with government transparency and has a number of features reporters and editors will find useful. Reporters will be able to follow the progress of individual bills, sort bills by topic, post comments and suggest legislation to add. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
Moved earlier in the week:
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. _ Five minutes late, Darrell Todd Maurina sweeps into a meeting room and plugs in his laptop computer. He places a Wi-Fi hotspot on the table and turns on a digital recorder. The earplug in his left ear is attached to a police scanner in his pants pocket. He wears a tie; Maurina insists upon professionalism. He is the press_ in its entirety. A Facebook blogger, he is the only person who has come to the Pulaski County courthouse to tell residents what their commissioners are up to, the only one who will report on their deliberations _ specifically, their discussions about how to satisfy the Federal Emergency Management Agency so it will pay to repair a road inundated in a 2013 flood. Last September, Waynesville became a statistic. With the shutdown of its newspaper, the Daily Guide, this town of 5,200 people in central Missouri’s Ozark hills joined more than 1,400 other cities in the United States to lose a newspaper over the past 15 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by the University North Carolina. Blame revenue siphoned by online competition, cost-cutting ownership, a death spiral in quality, sheer disinterest among readers or reasons peculiar to given locales for that development. While national outlets worry about a president who calls the press an enemy, many Americans no longer have someone watching the city council for them, chronicling the soccer exploits of their children or reporting on the kindly neighbor who died of cancer. Local journalism is dying in plain sight. By David Bauder and David A. Lieb. 2,300 words. Photos. Video. An Abridged version also is moving.