With tensions still smoldering over the Ferguson non-indictment, President Barack Obama on Monday proposed new funding to purchase 50,000 body cams for police officers throughout the country to improve steadily deteriorating relations between cops and citizens.
So far, police union officials have not responded with the usual outcry that these cameras could compromise officer safety.
But then again, citizens are catching on to their manipulative tactics and are demanding more transparency.
The plan would be to spend a total of $263 million, which will include $75 million-a-year for the next three years to purchase the cameras that would be matched by 50 percent of local and state funding. If approved by Congress, the plan would double the number of body cams used by cops by 2018.
According to the White House press release:
Task Force on 21st Century Policing
The President similarly instructed his team to draft an executive order creating a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and announced that the Task Force will be chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who also serves as President of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, and Laurie Robinson, professor at George Mason University and former Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs. The Task Force will include, among others, law enforcement representatives and community leaders and will operate in collaboration with Ron Davis, Director of DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office. The Task Force will build on the extensive research currently being conducted by COPS; will examine, among other issues, how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust; and will be directed to prepare a report and recommendations within 90 days of its creation.
Community Policing Initiative
The President also proposes a three-year $263 million investment package that will increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies (LEAs), add more resources for police department reform, and multiply the number of cities where DOJ facilitates community and local LEA engagement. As part of this initiative, a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program would provide a 50 percent match to States/localities who purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage. Overall, the proposed $75 million investment over three years could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras. The initiative as a whole will help the federal government efforts to be a full partner with state and local LEAs in order to build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities.
As stated in the press release, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will oversee the task force, which depending on whom you ask, can either be a good thing or a bad thing.
On one hand, Ramsey, who took the helm of the Philadelphia Police Department in 2008, launched a citywide program encouraging business owners to install and register their surveillance cameras with police, offering them financial incentives to do so.
While civil libertarians may balk at what may seem like a Big Brother intrusion, the cameras helped police arrest a man within 72 hours after he was caught on surveillance video abducting a woman walking down the street last month.
But on the other hand, under Ramsey’s watch, the Philadelphia Police Department continues to be one of the most corrupt in the nation with one scandal after another as well as a string of lawsuits against it for violating the rights of citizens to record them in public.
In fact, it was only after Ramsey was asked to join the president’s task force that he decided to get his own officers to start wearing body cams, despite the fact how many lawless officers seem to infest that department.
But it is a step in the right direction.
However, as noted before on PINAC, it is not the only step that must be taken to ensure police are held accountable for their actions.
If you spend any time following police accountability pages on Facebook, you’ve probably come across the viral meme about how use of force incidents dropped 60 percent within the Rialto Police Department after they issued body-mounted cameras to their officers.
The meme is based on a study conducted by Rialto Police Chief Tony Farrar as part of his master’s dissertation at Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology – in collaboration with Taser, Inc, the company that sells the cameras – which has been highlighted in numerous articles as proof that body-mounted cameras not only lead to a reduction in use of force incidents, but also in a reduction in citizen complaints against police.
The meme is rarely challenged because logic tells us humans would be on their best behavior knowing they are being video recorded.
However, that logic falls apart if we take a look at the Albuquerque Police Department which introduced body-mounted cameras in 2010 – one of the first departments in the country to do so – only to continue to see an unsettling number of violent incidents against citizens.
They killed so many citizens since introducing the cameras that the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation in late 2012, citing an unusually high number of incidents resulting in “excessive force, including use of unreasonable deadly force, in their encounters with civilians.”
In fact, on the same day the president made his announcement about his plan for body cams, an Albuquerque police officer was fired for not having his camera turned on when he killed a 19-year-old woman earlier this year. Officer Jeremy Dear claimed the woman had stepped out of her with a gun during a traffic stop, making him fear for his life.
According to Reuters:
An Albuquerque police officer who shot and killed a 19-year-old woman in April was fired from the police force on Monday for failing to follow an order to turn on his uniform camera during all citizen contacts, police said.
The officer, Jeremy Dear, had been under scrutiny because his uniform camera was not turned on during the April 21 incident in which he shot a woman who was stopped on suspicion of vehicle theft after he said she pointed a gun at him.
Police Chief Gorden Eden said in a statement the officer was fired for “insubordination and untruthfulness” over the uniform camera issue after an internal probe, but stopped short of linking the firing to the circumstances of the shooting itself.
Dear has not been charged in the incident.
And there have been several instances from Albuquerque as well as many other agencies, including New Orleans, where an officer turned her camera off before killing a suspect, that indicate more stringent measures are needed to ensure the cameras not only remain turned off, but that the footage remains available to citizens as public record.
It is no wonder why so many police unions have voiced opposition to the cameras, claiming they could hinder officer safety.
Chris Collins, union president, said the cameras represent a “clear change in working conditions,” as they add new requirements to an officer’s daily routine, including downloading the camera’s data. The cameras, he added, also could impact an officer’s safety. Both factors, he said, mean it is “mandatory” for the department to include the cameras within the scope of its union contract.
If the department moves to buy the cameras without that contractual consideration, “we are going to take legal action,” Collins added.
Pat Lynch, head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said “there is simply no need to equip patrol officers with body cams’’ anyway.
“Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, Mace, flashlights, memo books, ASPs, radio, handcuffs and the like,’’ he said. “Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it.
And in 2014, the Miami-Dade police union boss stated the following in a press release as well as much more in a video interview with PINAC, which you can see below:
As anyone with knowledge of place training and tactics knows, if an officer hesitates for even a second in a life threatening situation, it can cost that officer his or her life, and/or put the lives of others at risk.
So we will eventually reach a point were body cams will be a normal part of an officer’s uniform along with all their weapons. And that’s not a bad thing because it will help keep them from creating their own narrative as they have done so well for decades.
But it doesn’t mean we, as citizens, should refrain from recording every interaction with police with our own cameras because cameras in the hands of police will always be susceptible to manipulation.