Body cameras are being worn on police officers in the latest effort to prevent future incidents similar to the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. This technological shift is intended to begin bringing police work into the 21st century. Even the president of the United States has gotten involved. President Obama is now on board and interested in helping police departments across the nation equip their officers with on-body cameras. The cameras would be used primarily to record police interactions with the public.
Civil rights leaders and their advocates are hoping the technology will greatly lessen the likelihood of deaths similar to the one that happened in Ferguson, MO during the month of August. Reports claim that there has been an ongoing divide between many minority residents and police,even prior to the events leading up to Brown’s death. It has also been reported that African-Americans in Ferguson are searched, stopped and arrested at a rate disproportionate to their overall representation within the population.
Civil Rights groups like the NAACP Legal Defense League are now aggressively pressing Ferguson, MO and other law enforcement agencies nationwide to include much more training in situations where racial profiling is an issue. The United States Department of Justice recently launched its own investigation to look into tactics used by the Ferguson police over the last several months. According to NAACP reports, there are currently 20 U.S. states still without racial profiling legislation on the books and efforts are being made to correct this concern.
Wayne Sampson, Executive Director of the Police Chiefs Association stated that, “[There is] a lot of interest in the use of body cameras [on police].” The chief adds, “We believe…if there is ever a question of what…took place [during the Brown shooting or similar incidents], it could be [used as] valuable information for [police departments across the nation as a preventative and training measure].”
The officer responsible for killing Brown, Darren Wilson, was recently acquitted and has since resigned from his post on the Ferguson, MO police force. As a result of the decision not to charge Wilson, tremendous unrest has occurred. This is especially so in Ferguson, but also in numerous towns across the nation. Brown, who was allegedly an accomplice in a robbery moments before his death, was said to be unarmed.
Impending pressure from major civil rights organizations and concerned citizens as well as a series of meetings with cabinet officials and law enforcement personnel eventually propelled the White House to action. A request for $263 million was made by President Obama to fund the 21st century nationwide initiative for police officers to be wearing body cameras. Funds from the White House-initiative would also be used to implement reforms in policing in an effort to reduce mistrust towards the police, especially in heavily saturated minority-based communities. Cultural insensitivity is not just a Ferguson, MO problem according to Obama. It is a U.S problem. In his efforts, the President does not want lines to cross over into the formation of a militarized police state.
Congressional appropriation is necessary to initiate the President’s nationwide policing initiative which includes body cameras for police. If approved, the federal government would initially offer about $75 million over three years in an attempt to match state funding by 50 percent. This would help pay for at least 50,000 devices to start. A typical body camera costs about $1,000 per unit.
Jim Buerrmann, President of the Police Foundation in Washington and former police chief in Relands, California claims, “[In] the next five years or so, [body cameras worn on police officers] will be as [omnipresent] in…policing as [the gun, the police radio and handcuffs].” Furthermore, he states that police officers are less likely to use excessive force if wearing cameras.
Critics of the President’s body camera initiative claim it will not work due to costs, time and storage concerns. Writer, editor, trainer and former 15 year police officer Tim Dees says, “…the costs of purchasing…body cameras is almost trivial compared to the price…for maintaining the videos.”
Solutions must be hashed out over time to make the program economically feasible and practical in terms of its use by police organizations. Consequently, there is evidence suggesting body cameras worn on officers do in fact greatly alter the interactions between the police and the general public. Findings from a Rialto, CA department that participated in a trial study found that unless threatened, officers wearing body cameras were 60 percent less likely to use force. There were also greater than 80 percent fewer complaints from the public against Rialto, CA officers. Similar findings have been recorded in various states.
By D’wayne Stanelli
Image courtesy of thisisbossi – Flickr License