Police officers are sworn to serve and protect, but what happens in the line of duty when there isn’t a crystal clear record of the events?
In the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, MO., last month, legislators and police departments across the country are trying to find solutions on how to prevent any future incidents.
While numerous questions remain about what exactly took place in Ferguson, King County Councilman David Upthegrove said an answer may be found by equipping law enforcement officials with body cameras.
Earlier this week Upthegrove introduced legislation to create a pilot project attaching video cameras to police uniforms in an effort to reduce instances of “inappropriate use of force by officers” and complaints against officers by the public.
The legislation includes the creation of a task force comprised of attorneys, officers, and members of the American Civil Liberties Union to lay out how to address privacy and public disclosure issues as well as guidelines for the camera’s use.
“There’s a lot of room to improve the trust and transparency of our law enforcement agencies. This wasn’t motivated by one specific incident locally, but there’s anecdotal incidents, especially in communities of color,” Upthegrove told the Bellevue Reporter. “I’ve heard from constituents of not always being treated respectively.”
Video and audio footage from an incident provides a far better and more detailed account of what happened than just eye witness testimony, he said.
“Cameras not only protect the officers but ensure we have an accurate record of what takes place,” Upthegrove said. “But I don’t want a bunch of walking surveillance cameras.”
Last week, more than 200 King County residents attended a public forum in SeaTac held by Upthegrove to talk about interactions with police and what can be done to improve the relationships between officers and the public.
With strong emotional support and criticism expressed at the meeting, the councilman said the issue won’t be solved overnight, nor will cameras be a fix-all.
King County Sheriff John Urquhart expressed his full support for the proposed legislation.
“It keeps everyone on a level playing field,” he said. “We get complaints against officers all the time and they’re almost always a he said, she said situation. The body camera would help eliminate the doubt and make it much easier to come to a conclusion on what actually happened. It protects the public as much as it protects our officers.”
Upthegrove said the process won’t be quick, saying if the usage of cameras is approved it wouldn’t be implemented until at least next spring.
The usage of the cameras would also have to get the approval of the officer’s union as it would change their working conditions.