State Sen. Aaron Ford used to be in favor of releasing police body camera footage. But then he was recorded talking with officers after his son’s arrest. Now it’s up to the Nevada Supreme Court to uphold the public’s access to records.
Ford is the Democrat nominee for attorney general. Last Nov. 13, police arrested Ford’s son for what his campaign called a “minor incident.” Republican Attorneys General Association spokesmen Zack Roday said his group received a tip that Ford used his “position of authority to influence an outcome with law enforcement.”
The association last December requested the body camera footage of the incident. After the Metropolitan Police Department denied that and three subsequent requests, the group sued in September. Ford has decried the effort as “targeting children for political purposes.”
So did Ford act inappropriately? The whole point of having body cameras is so the public may judge the behavior of police officers. You can just watch the tape. Ironically, Ford made this exact point in 2017 while presenting a bill requiring body cameras for all police officers who interact with the public.
“Body-worn cameras bring transparency and accountability to interactions between law enforcement and the community,” Ford said.
But there is “transparency and accountability” only when the public can see the footage. That’s why a 2015 Ford-sponsored law dictated that every body camera recording is a “public record.” The public can request those records on a “per incident basis.” If the video contains confidential information, police don’t have to send out a digital copy but must make it available for inspection. Ford said that language was the result of a compromise with the Nevada Press Association and the ACLU. The NPA, Ford said, wouldn’t have accepted the bill without “provisions for public access.”
This is good policy. There’s much less accountability if the police wear body cameras but the footage is hidden from the public. Imagine the appropriate outrage if police departments were allowed to release only those videos that showed their officers in a positive light.
In its reply, Metro admitted its officers muted their cameras during parts of the incident — including during at least some interactions with Ford. Metro has since disabled the mute function on body cameras. Metro officials argued that since the incident involved a minor child, it was exempt from the public records law. Earlier this month, District Court Judge Kerry Earley agreed — even though the law provides a means for viewing records containing confidential information.
The RAGA filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court, and the justices ordered Metro to file a reply late last week. This is an important case with implications far beyond the upcoming attorney general’s election. As has been its pattern, the court should decide this case in favor of transparency.
But the questions surrounding Ford’s behavior remain. Undoubtedly, Ford wants to shield his son — by all accounts he’s a great father. But the RAGA isn’t interested in broadcasting his son’s crime. It even narrowed its request to just footage “relating to or depicting” Ford’s interactions with police officers.
So did Ford try to leverage inappropriately his position of authority? The evidence is suggestive but not conclusive — which is the whole point of having body cameras. The public shouldn’t have to guess. Just watch the video.
Until he was the one on tape, Ford believed that too. Hypocrite.