Calls for US police to wear body cameras
From the White House to local communities, Americans are pushing for more police to wear body cameras after an officer shot dead an unarmed man running away from a traffic infraction.
The killing of Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, shot in the back by a white officer on Saturday in South Carolina and filmed on a cellphone, shocked America and shocked the world.
U.S. officers are rarely indicted in shootings, but Michael Slager, 33, was charged with murder, sacked and faces up to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted at trial.
He initially claimed he felt threatened, but the emergence of the video so fundamentally contradicted his account that it has fueled calls for more widespread use of police body cameras.
The devices, which cost an estimated US$1,000 compared to US$5,000 for dashboard cameras, are still a new innovation in the United States but experts predict they could become standard equipment in the next three to five years.
“In the past it was always the case that people gave the police the benefit of the doubt,” said David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who studies police practices.
“That is beginning to change,” he told AFP. “There is no doubt whatsoever that if that cellphone video had not surfaced that officer would be out on patrol in a police car right now.”
A series of killings of unarmed black men by largely white police officers last year sparked nationwide protests, charges of racism and revived the debate about excessive use of police force.
Last August’s killing of 18-yearold Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in bitterly disputed circumstances, and millions of Americans strolling around with smart phones capable of filming video is changing attitudes towards body cameras, experts say.
Could Reduce Violence
“A few police departments were trying them out but it wasn’t until this year that people began to really pay attention,” said Harris.
Preliminary U.S. studies and studies from Britain show that they are great at collecting evidence, fending off bogus complaints and — most often — back up officers accounts, said Harris.
One study from Rialto, California in 2012 found that for officers with cameras, complaints from the public dropped almost 90 percent and uses of force went down nearly 60 percent.
“If we issue them to all police, have reasonable rules, train for it and so forth we should see a diminishment of these kind of incidents,” Harris told AFP.
The issue has harnessed political support from the top down.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said police body cameras “could have a positive impact in terms of build and trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
Marlon Kimpson, a South Carolina state senator who represents North Charleston, where Scott was killed, is pushing a bill that would force all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras.
In North Charleston — where blacks make up the largest population group and police are overwhelmingly white — Mayor Keith Summey promised to speed up the introduction of police body cameras.