I have a tendency to follow stories in my hometown newspaper.
For nearly a month, one of the top stories has been about the fatal shooting of a man by a South Bend (Ind.) police officer, who did not turn on his body camera prior to the shooting.
The incident has raised the issue — once again — of the impact, benefits, and consequences of body worn cameras.
One of the things that troubles me is that the body camera sometimes gets a bad rap – I think because, in general, we tend to view cameras as a tool “to catch” police officers doing something wrong (a reasonable conclusion, considering that the big push for cameras nationwide was in response to the number of high profile shootings of unarmed black men by police officers).
I think that body (and dash) cameras do offer the potential to increase police transparency and accountability. But guess what? The cameras can also “catch” officers in the act of doing something right (or doing something good).
I saw concrete evidence of that a few days ago when the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina released body camera footage of Deputy W. Kimbro taking life-saving measures that kept a 12-day-old baby alive and breathing until emergency personnel arrived on the scene.
Last year, dashcam video caught Kingston Crowell and Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremie Nix saving the life of a three-month old baby who was choking.
Then there was the footage released in 2017 by the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department in Georgia that shows Officer William Eng taking a one-month old baby who was not breathing into his arms and administering chest compressions, until she let out a cry and started breathing.
Since 2015, when President Obama pledged funding for a nationwide program to equip police departments with body cameras, research has shown some interesting facts, Including:
- Police leadership organizations have publicly supported the use of body worn cameras
- Resident advocacy and human rights groups embrace the use of cameras
- Cameras can lead to reductions in police use of force and resident complaints
- Cameras generate valuable evidence
- Limitations affect the likelihood that cameras will capture a complete visual and audio record of what has transpired.
That said, we need to be realistic about what body and dash cameras can and cannot do.
And we need to change the narrative to include the fact that body and dash cameras can also capture the heroic efforts of our law enforcement officers. I am sure that officers Eng, Nix, and Kimbro are just a few of our dedicated law enforcement officers who have been caught in the act of doing heroic deeds.
I wonder what we would find, if we reviewed all of the police video footage ever collected – more officers doing the wrong thing or more officers doing the right thing?