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.

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