Our View: Equipping cops with body cameras improves odds of finding the truth
Had police officer Darren Wilson been wearing a small camera on his chest -- like all Duluth police officers have been doing since July -- Ferguson may never have happened.
Had police officer Darren Wilson been wearing a small camera on his chest - like all Duluth police officers have been doing since July - Ferguson may never have happened.
The riots. The violence. The anger. All of it could have been avoided with irrefutable video evidence of exactly what went down and why when Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed on Aug. 9. Everyone would be able to see the truth now rather than embracing the version of the truth that fits best with their biases and their mindset when it comes to race and the police.
Of course, Ferguson could be a whole lot worse right now, too. Depending what the video showed.
But therein is the beauty of law enforcement wearing body cameras. The chance of the truth being known greatly increases, whether for the better (so nasty rumors and misinformed anger can be headed off before boiling over) or for the worse (so the bad actions of those in authority can be addressed and fixed before informed anger gets out of hand).
Surprisingly, though, few law enforcement agencies are yet embracing the technology. As Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay points out on today’s page, Duluth is a national trendsetter for others to follow. According to a Chicago Tribune editorial last week, in New York City,
60 officers are using body cameras in a test. Only a test? And only 60 officers? That’s less than 1 percent of the city’s force. In Washington, D.C., the police chief said she hopes to introduce body cameras by next month. Hopes to? And in Chicago, only 60 percent of squad cars even have dashboard cameras; the idea of body cameras is only being dabbled with there.
The hesitation is surprising because body cameras work. They provide critical information. Our Chief Ramsay has seen it. Rialto, Calif., police have seen it, too; they reported a 60 percent reduction in use-of-force incidents and an 88 percent reduction in citizen complaints against police after body cameras became standard issue in 2012, as columnist Michelle Mar reports, also on today’s page. Another
California town reported body cameras reduced complaints against police by 90 percent, the Chicago newspaper found.
“Police cameras, you see, have a way of altering the behavior of both cops and civilians. Both tend to behave better when they know there will be a video record of what they do,” the Chicago’s editorial read. “Police are less likely to brutalize citizens, and citizens are less likely to make false accusations of abuse.”
All of which is why the prediction of Aurora, Colo., Police Chief Daniel Oates - whose department uses and reportedly likes body cameras - can come true. And soon. “Within five years, every cop in America is going to be wearing a body camera,” Chief Oates said.
With every cop outfitted with a camera, the chance of getting at the truth - for better or for worse - improves. And the truth is important enough for the technology to be embraced. Like Duluth did.