"Protect and serve ' but first, hit 'record'"
Police body cameras a necessary safeguard in today's post-Ferguson world
It’s an ugly truth, but true nonetheless: More needs to be done to protect members of society – innocent and guilty alike – from those tasked with protecting us.
Though the majority of police officers do their duty in an upstanding manner and deserve nothing but praise for their actions on the job, the recent deaths of individuals like Michael Brown and Eric Garner make it clear that sometimes police officers not only combat violence, but generate it as well.
And as the tragic storyline still playing out in Ferguson so painfully demonstrates, when police officers use force, it’s not always clear whether their actions were justified.
The jury tasked with determining whether or not officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown, faced a mountain of conflicting evidence.
When asked if Brown charged at Wilson or his car, five witnesses said no, six said yes, and others did not see. Six witnesses reported that Wilson fired repeatedly at Brown when he was down, while seven said he did not. The reported number of shots fired ranged from “at least three” to “10 or 11.”
Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that the jury faced a daunting task in sorting out just what happened between Wilson and Brown.
It’s an unavoidable facet: We’ll never know the truth. We’ll never know what really happened to Brown, or what Wilson really did.
But we could have known.
Had Wilson been wearing a body camera, his testimony would have been clearly contradicted or supported, and his guilt or innocence would have been far easier to determine.
And fortunately, President Barak Obama realizes this, as he’s proposed a program of federal support for body cameras worn by local law enforcement.
Many police departments already have cameras, and it’s time for those that don’t to start employing them.
Buffalo’s police force is one of the few major police departments that not only lacks body cameras, but also doesn’t have cameras installed on their patrol cars either.
That’s an oversight in need of immediate correction.
Everyone benefits from the use of the cameras – if the police make a mistake or intentionally break procedure, the individuals involved have evidence to support their complaint.
And if police officers are unjustly accused, they, too, would have video to refute those claims.
But it must be acknowledged that body cameras are not a cure-all to the issues plaguing law enforcement.
In the case of Eric Garner, a man who died while being arrested in New York City after being placed in a chokehold by police officer Daniel Pantaleo, there was video footage. Garner’s death and Pantaleo’s actions were recorded and played for a jury – a jury that decided not to indict Pantaleo.
Body cameras are not a perfect a solution. But they are a solution – hopefully one of many to come.
But in the mean time, as protests continue in Ferguson, New York City and across the nation, it’s becoming painfully apparent: Even with video footage, ambiguity remains, and individuals continue to die at the hands – or in the grip – of police officers.