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No-brainer on body cams

Weeks of protests in Ferguson, Mo., started because of a police officer killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown. But at its heart, the protests were about the ways our criminal justice system fails nonwhite Americans. The explosive nature of the response to Brown’s death is telling us something important about race in America: Nonwhite Americans don’t believe the system works for them — and crime data show that belief is justified.
We’ve got to fix the system — and then convince all Americans to believe in it. The events in Ferguson are prompting a conversation about the militarization of police, the diversity of departments, the way officers interact with the residents they’re asked to protect, and how shootings or other officer-involved assaults are investigated. …
Across the country, there’s a push for police to begin wearing body-mounted cameras. This seems like a no-brainer. In Rialto, Calif., the Wall Street Journal reported, “the use of force by officers declined 60 percent, and citizen complaints against police fell 88 percent” in the year after body-mounted cameras were adopted.
These small, tamper-resistant cameras aren’t terribly expensive, and the cost of cloud data storage required to archive the footage such cameras produce continues to drop. There’s no question it would be an outlay for cash-strapped departments, but it would be smart to compare the cost of equipping officers with such cameras to the amount of money paid out each year in police-related lawsuits or settlements.
“Photographic evidence is worth a thousand words,” said Mark Thatcher, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s racial justice project.
Some police advocates have raised privacy concerns. We understand. But police officers aren’t average citizens. They’re armed and wield the authority of the state, and it’s reasonable to ask them to adhere to a high standard.
Most police vehicles are equipped with dashboard cameras, but in the course of action, those fixed cameras are often left behind.
Plus, there’s a bonus for police officers, Thatcher said: “If they really are performing their duties as they should, they should welcome this, because it eliminates the ability for suspects to create stories that aren’t true.”
This is a win-win: Video can provide clear evidence if there’s police wrongdoing, but also protect cops from frivolous or malicious claims by the folks they’re arresting.
Any adoption of such technology should come with a strict message from police leadership: If your camera’s off, you’ll have to answer for it. Departments should mandate it, and police unions should support it.
— Detroit Free Press

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