The Crystal City police department is considering the purchase of body cameras for all officers, says the Post-Dispatch. I approve of this move.
For years many police cars have been equipped with dashboard video recorders — now some departments are equipping officers with body cameras.
Crystal City, New Melle and Troy, Mo., may become the next area communities to outfit their police officers with the devices, which can weigh less than the latest iPhone. Units sold by two of the manufacturers range from $300 to $900 apiece.
Wentzville is the area pioneer on this:
Wentzville decided to go with body cameras in part because they cover more of a traffic stop than a dashboard unit, said Maj. Paul West, a spokesman for city police.
“Where the officer goes, the camera goes,” West said.
Officials say the units help in collection of evidence, protect officers from unsubstantiated allegations and keep them accountable.
Since Wentzville bought the units, the department says there have been no proven complaints of discourtesy by officers and a decrease in the use of force. Officers are “making a better effort to communicate,” West said.
That last paragraph proves why these are needed. When officers know their interactions are being recorded, they have to behave. Dirty cops can’t just bank on the fact that their buddies will cover for them and that they will win any “he said, she said” dispute against a regular Joe. “Communication” takes the place of intimidation. And these will support good cops when they are hit with bogus allegations.
In the Jefferson County community of Crystal City, Police Chief Jeff McCreary said a supervisor in his department has been using a body camera on a test basis.
The city has yet to decide whether to buy them for the rest of the force, which has 17 officers.
“The odds are we will do it” gradually, the chief said. “It will be a funding issue. Budgets are tight.”
The Crystal City council should do all it can to make sure the police department can afford these cameras for all officers (maybe there’s a grant?). But the city should also make sure the cameras are turned on during every police interaction with the public, and that the video is made available to the public upon request.
Local state representative Jeff Roorda (D-113th), who also works with the St. Louis police union and regularly opposes police oversight, doesn’t like them:
Others are not enamored with the new technology.
Jeff Roorda, executive director of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said the organization has had concerns about dashboard cameras in use on many city patrol cars and would have the same worries about on-body devices.
Roorda, who also is a Democratic state representative, said both types of cameras provide video of “one angle of an encounter” that sometimes doesn’t reflect exactly what happened.
“In general, cameras have been bad for law enforcement and the communities they protect,” he said. “It causes constant second-guessing by the courts and the media.”
What other angle of an encounter is important, besides that which the officer sees? And that last paragraph is amazing. You or I might refer to “second-guessing” as “oversight” or “punishment” or “prosecution.” Here are just two recent episodes that illustrate the need for constant video monitoring of police:
–Woman arrested for recording traffic stop on her phone. The officer lied about the law and roughed her up before arresting her. Thanks to the video, though, the charges were dropped.
–New York cops cause car accident, then arrest victim. The cops here looked around for cameras before arresting the guy. They knew that video would lead to the truth, and to their punishment. Unfortunately for them, there was a camera they didn’t see.
And of course, we’ve seen here in our county, both in Pevely and in the sheriff’s department, that these cameras are needed. Perhaps the county council could buy these for Sheriff Glenn Boyer. He’d probably refuse to use them, though. “Micromanaging” and all that. Chief McCreary from Crystal City, though, is ahead of the curve. Perhaps he might make a good sheriff?