By: JAMILAH NASHEED
We use them to watch over our homes and businesses, to host virtual meetings, and even to review the minutiae of games played by grown men chasing a ball.
Cameras are part of our everyday life. That’s what makes their absence from our police interactions with the people they serve all the more frustrating.
Since the death of Michael Brown just over a year ago, we’ve witnessed police shootings across the country, each followed by some form of protest. There is a common-sense solution that could reduce this turmoil, and that enjoys nearly universal support from the law enforcement community and the community at large: the use of police body cameras.
“Body cams” are small recording devices worn as headsets or clipped to a uniform. They capture audio and video recordings of an officer’s interactions with the public. That footage can then be reviewed when crimes occur or misconduct is alleged.
Cameras don’t lie. They don’t make false claims or cover up misdeeds. Their attention to detail doesn’t get hazy in the midst of a pressure-filled confrontation. Their recollection is far more accurate than the often-unreliable eyewitness testimony of bystanders.
What’s more, body cams protect both the police and the public. In Pittsburgh, complaints against officers dropped 74 percent after introducing body cams to the force. In San Diego, use of force incidents decreased 47 percent in the 14 months after launching cams there.
Body cams promote accountability on both sides of the badge, and that’s good for us all.
Just like every other solution, there is a cost associated with body cams. The devices cost about $300 each. There are extra costs for chargers and maintenance, and also the ongoing expense of storing the recordings. Last year, St. Louis city estimated an initial purchase of 1,000 body cams for our officers would cost $1.2 million. It would also require increasing the department’s annual budget by up to $900,000 for maintenance.
Critics of the cams say that our city can’t afford them right now. But, I believe that we can’t afford to go without this simple, common-sense tool any longer.
Body cams would save taxpayers millions by reducing excessive police force and preventing false claims of brutality.
But, perhaps their greatest benefits can’t be measured in dollars and cents. Body cams make the judicial process fairer and more efficient for everyone involved. They’re tangible evidence that the men and women who protect and serve us deserve greater trustworthiness and credibility for the jobs they do. They represent a concrete step toward repairing the relationship between our community and the police. Most of all, they offer us a comforting but vital tool in that most basic of human quests: the pursuit of truth.
One month ago, a 43-year-old African-American man named Sam DuBose was shot dead following a routine traffic stop in Cincinnati. The officer who shot him claimed DuBose had dragged him with his car and he feared for his life. The surrounding community rallied, marched and protested. They demanded answers about what really happened during the shooting.
Fortunately, the officer’s body camera caught the entire incident on tape. The footage showed that the officer had not been dragged. On July 29, just 10 days after the original incident occurred, a grand jury indicted the officer who shot DuBose for murder.
Justice was done. The truth prevailed. And, throughout it all, the protests remained peaceful.
Would we have seen similar nonviolence in Ferguson if a body camera had recorded Mike Brown’s death last year? That’s a question that can’t be answered. But, with this tool, we can avoid similar uncertainties going forward.
That’s why I will fight to mandate and fund body cams for police departments across Missouri when our Legislature reconvenes. The stakes are simply too high and this technology too commonplace for our community to accept anything less.