No question about it. When Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, if the facts so conclude, law enforcement suffered a major change. The resulting unrest caused a call for some way to hold police accountable other than speculation on incomplete investigations.
Some people say the answer may be individually mounted cameras on an officer’s glasses or shoulders. This technology will tell the true story of what happened between the police officer and the bad guys out on the street.
Oh, it will not happen overnight. There is a cost factor — these cameras cost between $300-$400 each, and there are storage and management costs to be considered. Body cameras could reduce incidents involving the use of force and citizen complaints.
A city in California found that the use of body cameras caused a 60 percent decline in the use-of-force complaints against police officers. Additionally, cameras seem to make police officers more aware that the whole world is watching and going-by-the-book is the preferred method of operation.
Right now incidents on the street are subject to speculation and often judgments are quickly made before investigations are completed. Politics get involved and others take advantage of such incidents to promote their own agendas. Things may turn out not to be as first reported.
For example, I recently watched a video on a computer. I do not remember where the incident happened, but a white officer responded to a call regarding a black male armed with a rifle walking down a public street.
The officer shouted for the black male to “put down the rifle!” As we watched the video, we saw the black male put down the rifle with his left hand. We then heard three shots, and it looked like the white officer had just shot an unarmed black man who had complied with his order.
Several more viewings of the video and a careful look for details revealed that when the black male put the rifle down with his left hand, he reached around his back with the right hand and pulled a handgun. He was just about to shoot the officer when a backup officer stepped around the corner and saw what was happening. The backup officer actually fired the three rounds that killed the black subject.
Without this video footage, we might well have had another Ferguson incident. Police have a dangerous job protecting the peace. Making hasty judgments before investigations are concluded serves no one well. Body cameras might save a great deal of misunderstandings and save legal fees and court time. After incidents like the one in Ferguson, there is a possibility that body cameras worn by police officers might one day join dash-board mounted cameras as standard equipment. These body cameras might better protect officers rights and reputations.
In the Ferguson incident there has been a great deal of speculation and public outcry well in advance of a full investigation into the facts of the case. At this date, we still do not know what actually happened and yet there has been rioting in the streets. Body cameras might help eliminate hasty speculation and conclusions, and these cameras could one day become standard equipment and perhaps a policeman’s best friend. Who knows?
Jack Simpson is a former educator, a veteran, an author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday