Video cam­eras pro­posed on guns for D.C. po­lice to record use of lethal force

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By David C. Lip­scomb

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.

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