Recent plans to outfit police officers in Seattle with body cameras may be cancelled, according to a Reuters report from today. The popular support of body cameras to be worn by police in various municipalities across the country is at, or near, an all time high after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, this past August. A poll found on ISideWith.com from Aug. 21, 2014 had 70 percent of its over 90,000 respondents answering affirmatively that they approved of mandatory body cameras on uniformed officers, as well as 83 percent in a different survey from Sept. 2, in Utah, and 68 percent of Floridians agreeing on Sept. 11.
Apparently, the driving force behind what may potentially derail Seattle’s plans is an anonymous computer programmer’s requests for daily updates on the footage. One may be justified in wondering how, exactly, a single person’s requests could provoke the response of cancelling a pilot program which would have outfitted 1,000 of Seattle’s police with the cameras. That those and similar requests would “just shut down so many other aspects of our operation,” was the answer provided by an official within the department, who remains nameless.
Seattle, in particular, has a troubled past when it comes to complaints regarding the use of force against its citizens. In protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, since dubbed the “Battle in Seattle,” paramilitary-garbed police officers fired teargas canisters in the opening salvos against a massive peaceful protest, estimated to be comprised of some 40,000 people. By that night, tensions had escalated to the point where National Guard units were mobilized to quell what had become an open riot. Norm Stamper, the Chief of Police in Seattle at the time of those events, has since become an advocate of police reform.
“I made, personally, the biggest mistake of my career that week” said Stamper, in remarks to Vice this past August. He went on to condemn a variety of concerning topics, such as departments collecting surplus military equipment, dressing officers as soldiers, and the use of no-knock warrants, to often tragic consequences. One such consequence of a no-knock warrant was a Georgia toddler, hospitalized in critical condition after an officer threw a flash-bang grenade which landed in the child’s playpen, this past May. Another is the 2009 lighting of a home on fire in Wyoming, with yet another flash-bang grenade. It bears remembering that the targets of these military-grade “non-lethal” weapons are suspects rather than criminals, and generally American citizens whom should be afforded due process.
The intent behind the recent drive to require law enforcement officers to wear cameras is the idea that wearing cameras would serve to remind police officers, in the process of fulfilling their duties, to be more cautious and respectful in their interactions with the public. While officers have every right and expectation to use deadly force in protection of themselves, the fact remains that there exists in the United States a 4:1 ratio of people killed by police to officers killed in the line of duty. Perhaps Seattle should reconsider its ability to fund officer body cameras, as such a move has shown dramatic positive effects when tried in other areas. A year-long study in Rialto, Cali., found that the use of such cameras reduced “use of force” complaints by 50 percent. Such an action also serves to re-establish some degree of trust, that police officers truly believe in their oaths to “protect and serve,” rather than to execute at will.
Story by Brian Whittemore