‘Do as I say, not as I do’ on body cameras

In the wake of the fallout from the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last year, President Barack Obama announced a three-year, $263 million community policing initiative, which included $75 million to help local law enforcement agencies purchase 50,000 body cameras. The Justice Department doled out $19.3 million in such grants this year, which, along with a 50 percent match by the local police agencies, will purchase an estimated 21,000 cameras.

We agree with the use of police body cameras, although we strongly disagree with federal involvement and the use of federal tax dollars. Policies of local police agencies should be determined by the jurisdiction’s taxpayers and political leaders, not cross-subsidized by taxpayers nationwide.

The oft-cited experiment of the Rialto Police Department with body cameras in 2012-13 illustrates why their use is good for protecting both police officers and the wider community. The department found that after the body cameras were instituted, officers used force nearly 60 percent less often, and the number of citizen complaints against officers dropped by 88 percent. Since then, numerous police departments across the country have adopted body cameras.

But in yet another case of “Do what I say, not as I do,” the Obama administration has so far refused to adopt body camera policies for federal agencies. This prompted the U.S. Marshals Service, an agency of the Justice Department that frequently teams with local police to track fugitives and violent criminals, to announce that it will not allow local police wearing body cameras to serve on Marshals task forces.

And an internal review for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the largest law enforcement agency in the nation, recommended against widespread use of body cameras, according to a report recently obtained by the Los Angeles Times. This is especially alarming considering a new American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona report that documents pervasive Border Patrol abuses of people’s constitutional rights and a lack of basic record keeping, oversight or accountability.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. In the interests of public safety, transparency and accountability, the Obama administration must stop dragging its feet and adopt body cameras for federal law enforcement officers who come into contact with the public.

Orange County Register

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