Cleveland has long blurred the faces of officers that appear in body camera video from traffic stops or at crime scenes before the images are released to the public or news media.

The city previously said it had to shield the officers’ identities because of a state public records law exemption for releasing images of peace officers if the officer could potentially be assigned to undercover or plainclothes police work.

Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration is changing that policy, The Marshall Project – Cleveland reported. In an effort to increase transparency and openness, the city will no longer routinely blur the faces of uniformed officers when it releases video, according to a law department memo dated July 24. It will still shield faces of officers who are currently undercover, are likely to be assigned to such a role in the “foreseeable future,” or who are victims of a crime. 

“Officer privacy must be respected but also must be balanced against constituents’ demands for accountability,” the memo states. Read the full memo

This article was published in partnership with The Marshall Project – Cleveland, a nonprofit news organization covering the criminal justice system in Northeast Ohio.

The city’s public safety and police leadership are in agreement with the change, which they say is intended to strengthen the administration’s argument for ending federal oversight in the near future. The move to stop editing the officers’ faces should also speed up the city’s ability to release video from body-worn cameras to the public and news media. 

Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Jeff Follmer said the city informed him of the policy change recently, and that it isn’t an issue that falls under the union contract. Generally, he said the local news media use caution and consider officer safety and privacy when publishing videos. Follmer said he hopes that continues, even with the new policy in place.


Community and Special Projects Editor (she/her)
Rachel leads our special projects work on topics that demand deeper coverage, and works with Cleveland Documenters and Signal staff to report those stories for wider understanding and accountability. She is our liaison with the Marshall Project in Cleveland where she focuses on including residents' voices in criminal justice reporting. Rachel has reported in Cleveland for more than two decades on stories that have changed laws, policies, hearts and minds. She was part of the team that helped launch Cleveland Documenters in 2020, and she was a John S. Knight Community Impact Fellow in 2021. Dissell is a two-time winner of the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for narrative stories about teen dating violence and systemic failures with rape investigations.

The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. Through a partnership with Signal Cleveland, The Marshall Project is weaving more resident voices into its reporting and building an understanding about how the justice system works — and doesn’t work — in Cleveland.