Yesterday’s shooting of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb is only the latest, but maybe the most impactful, evidence of the value of body worn police cameras.
The video from officer Kim Potter’s camera makes it clear that, in a moment of high stress, she pulled her gun when she intended to use her taser. We should all wait for a complete investigation, but that body cam footage will likely be the most important piece of evidence in any inquiry.
And while that video evidence might provide some cover for the police officer, the opposite is true of the killing of George Floyd. We would not be here today, in the middle of the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, if it were not for the extensive video coverage taken by bystanders. But Chauvin was not wearing a camera. So, what would have happened if he had done the very same thing but at, say 3 AM, when there was no one else present?
So, why won’t Madison take the plunge into cameras? Short answer: I have no idea. The evidence is strongly in favor of them and the valid concerns can be addressed.
Three special city committees have studied this issue since 2014 and standing committees have weighed in as well. The Police Department supports them as does current Council President Sheri Carter, but some community activists have concerns.
As far as I can tell, these concerns fall into a couple of categories. One argument is that in certain sensitive situations, like domestic violence, the presence of the camera will make victims reluctant to talk. That’s a reasonable concern with a reasonable solution. Simply allow officers to turn off their cameras at the request of victims under certain circumstances.
The other worry is that this will somehow be seen as a solution to all policing issues, short-circuiting other reforms. That argument just doesn’t hold up. Nobody, not even camera advocates, views it this way. Policing is under more scrutiny than ever and the idea that body cameras will be perceived by anyone as the last word in police reform and oversight is just not plausible.
And, of course, cameras can have a positive effect whether or not the video ever comes into play. The very fact that officers know that their every action is being recorded are more likely to be cautious in their actions and to be respectful to citizens they encounter.
Over half of police departments in America have cameras and there are more every month. About two-thirds of departments our size use them. It just makes sense. Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is not taking a position on this, but this is precisely the kind of thing that a mayor needs to show some leadership on.
In the wake of the Duante Wright tragedy, the Mayor needs to take a stand for cameras.