Some Still Skeptical About Increased Use Of Police Body Cameras
Body cameras have been back in the news following a recent police shooting in Cincinnati.
Police departments across the state are either testing or wearing the devices and Dayton and Beavercreek are considering getting them. Equipping officers with cameras also is one of the recommendations from Governor John Kasich’s Task Force on Community-Police Relations.
But some are wondering if the move will only be a Band-Aid on a larger issue.
When people in law enforcement talk about body cameras, two words come up a lot: accountability and transparency. Officers like Beavercreek Police Department Capt. Eric Grile say having that footage means it’ll be harder to question a specific event.
“I have an audio/video recording of everything that corroborates the statement of the officer,” Grile said.
Though, in certain cases, like the July 19 police shooting in Cincinnati, the body camera footage actually counters what the officer said happened. Ex-officer Ray Tensing told those in his department he was being dragged by 43-year-old Samuel DuBose’s vehicle before he shot and killed DuBose.
“No, he didn’t get dragged,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said.
He made that comment after looking at the tape from Tensing’s body camera. Deters says the footage made all the difference in this situation.
"I think it’s a good idea for police to wear that, because nine times out of 10 it clears them of wrongdoing,” he said. “And in this case, obviously, it led to an indictment for murder.”
Deters will be able to use the video as evidence in the case.
Almost all Cleveland police officers are wearing body cameras now, too. Cleveland Police Det. Jennifer Ciacci says officers have been responsive to wearing the cameras. Though just like with other aspects of their job, it takes repetitive training to get officers used to operating them.
“It’s more muscle memory than anything to have that thing on. And it’s just one more thing you do every time you get out of the car. Coming from basic patrol, having spent 13 years on the road prior to this job, I can tell you muscle memory is a huge part of what we do every day,” Ciacci said.
Cleveland has already spent around $2.5 million on the cameras and data storage.
But not everyone thinks body cameras are the best way to go. Dr. Ronnie Dunn is a professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University and a member of the governor’s community-police relations advisory board. He points to the case in New York with Eric Garner as a reason why he’s apprehensive.
“There was perfect video of that incident with audio. And, you know, he could be heard saying ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ And still, when that video was used in the grand jury process, there was not an indictment,” Dunn said.
He’s pushing for statewide legislation on racial profiling and required cultural competency training for officers.
Rev. Linda Stampley of Springfield says she doesn’t trust that each officer will always have the device turned on.
“So if the body camera’s turned off, or if they’re turned away from where the incident is happening, then it’s no good,” Stampley said. “It’s like the dashboard on the police car, once you walk outside of that realm, you don’t know what’s going on.”
Stampley has been taking part in protests over John Crawford’s death since last year. She says police involved in these types of incidents need to be punished in order to prevent more from happening.
Stampley points out a grand jury didn’t hand down an indictment for the officer who shot Crawford even though there was footage recorded by a surveillance camera inside the Beavercreek Wal-Mart.
“The officers that shot and killed John Crawford shot and killed him. It wasn’t about having no cameras up above their heads or anything else. They just walked in, just gunned him down,” she said.
For now, the Beavercreek Police Department is testing devices. Montgomery County and Dayton Police are also considering body cameras. And Dayton has applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Justice to pay for the devices. These moves show it’s not really an issue of if police will start wearing cameras, but when.
Special thanks for WVXU for contributing audio to this report.