Video cameras proposed on guns for D.C. police to record use of lethal force
A D.C. Council member wants to put mini-cameras on roughly 4,000 police firearms to make officers accountable for using lethal force, but other city officials are not convinced about the value of the technology.
Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, is proposing a bill to equip the Metropolitan Police Department’s weapons with relatively untested PistolCams, which record video and sound when a gun is drawn.
“It would help [officers] stand some of the scrutiny that they go through,” said Mr. Thomas, who wants to introduce the cameras when patrol officers are given assault rifles in the summer.
The city is looking to add additional cameras to its network of approximately 5,200, including 92 monitored by the Metropolitan Police Department in high-crime areas. The rest are run by other city agencies, including 3,700 by D.C. Public Schools.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, plans to give the police access to those agency cameras. The plan would increase the number of police cameras in high-crime areas from to 225.
In addition, the D.C. Council has approved a plan to put cameras on the city’s 20 street sweepers to scan license plates to catch parking violators.
The PistolCams, which cost about $700 each, attach to the undersides of the guns and are about the same size and weight of attachable flashlights that police typically use, said Bill DeProspo, a spokesman for PistolCam maker Legend Technologies in Keeseville, N.Y.
Mr. Deprospo said May 13 that the cameras record at a quality comparable to a commercial camcorder.
Council member Phil Mendelson, who heads the council’s committee on public safety, said he would hold hearings on the proposal, but he questions the cost-effectiveness of the device.
“The value of the camera would be to determine whether the use of force was unreasonable,” said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “I don’t know how successful that would be when issues of excessive force with a firearm comes up maybe a couple of times a year.”
Last year, D.C. police officers shot at people 31 times, more than twice as many times as in 2006, according to statistics from the department. Also last year, officers fired 219 rounds compared with 64 in 2006.
Mr. Mendelson said that a rough calculation of the costs of adding the cameras would be $4 million, which he thinks may be better used for other public safety programs.
Mr. DeProspo said a camera would be more cost-effective than a lengthy investigation into an officer’s conduct, which can cost tens of millions of dollars.
D.C. police spokeswoman Traci Hughes said the department “is reviewing the proposed legislation and considering best practices before a formal position on the measure.”
Mr. DeProspo said the Orange County, N.Y., sheriff’s department is testing the cameras and that Legend Technologies is working with legislators to equip state police with them.
Lt. Glenn Miller, a state police spokesman, said the department has not conducted research on the cameras.
Concerns about D.C. officers using excessive force surfaced after the city lowered standards in police recruiting in 1989 and 1990.
City officers fatally shot 12 people in 1998, and the department led the country in fatal shootings in the 1990s.
However, the number of fatal police-involved shootings was five or fewer each year from 1999 to 2006, according to a department report.
Last month, the department qualified to end a seven-year, voluntary Justice Department oversight of incidents in which officers used their weapons or other forms of force in the line of duty.
The department currently is reviewing the conduct of two officers who this month were exonerated by federal investigators in the fatal shooting of DeOnte Rawlings, 14, whom they suspected in the theft of a mini-bike.
The federal investigation showed that the teen fired the first shot in an exchange in October that occurred when the off-duty officers confronted him.
The findings challenged community accusations that the officers were too quick to shoot after an autopsy showed the boy had been shot in the back of the head.