Turn on body cams

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

This is ex­cerpted from an ed­i­to­rial by The Wash­ing­ton Post.

hy don’t we have footage from body cam­eras?”asked Betsy Hodges, the mayor of Minneapolis, af­ter a lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer fa­tally shot Aus­tralian na­tional Jus­tine Da­mond on July 15. “Why were they not ac­ti­vated? We all want an­swers to those ques­tions,” she con­tin­ued. Cit­i­zens should want those an­swers, too.

Da­mond, a med­i­ta­tion teacher, called the po­lice to re­port a pos­si­ble rape near her home. She called again eight min­utes later to re­port more scream­ing, and was told of­fi­cers were on their way. Ex­actly how that led to her killing is un­clear, even though both re­spond­ing of­fi­cers were equipped with cam­eras — be­cause the de­vices were not turned on. As a re­sult, in­ves­ti­ga­tors, cit­i­zens and griev­ing fam­ily mem­bers are left with fewer an­swers than they need and de­serve.

Be­yond Minneapolis, there are sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions across the coun­try. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Jus­tice De­part­ment dis­cov­ered that of­fi­cers in Albu- querque reg­u­larly failed to turn on their cam­eras due to lack of train­ing and over­sight. A study of the Den­ver Po­lice De­part­ment found that just a quar­ter of in­ci­dents in­volv­ing force were recorded. The na­tional fig­ures are even more dire: Ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post’s data­base of fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings, 554 peo­ple have been shot and killed by the po­lice this year — but there is body cam­era footage for just 57 of those en­coun­ters.

Al­though some de­part­ments have been slow to adopt the tech­nol­ogy due to pri­vacy and cost con­cerns, ev­i­dence sug­gests that body cam­eras can serve an im­por­tant pur­pose, fa­cil­i­tat­ing ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency. But un­less there is greater en­force­ment, they will sim­ply be ex­pen­sive pieces of dec­o­ra­tion.

Body cam­eras are no sub­sti­tute for rig­or­ous train­ing and other poli­cies de­signed to curb po­lice vi­o­lence. They can, how­ever, help re­build trust be­tween law en­force­ment and com­mu­ni­ties. They have the po­ten­tial to be a use­ful polic­ing tool — but only if of­fi­cers ac­ti­vate them while polic­ing.

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