Last week, on-duty patrol deputies in Delaware County began wearing body cameras.

The cameras are worn on the chests of law enforcement officers as part of their regular uniforms and used to document what they see while performing their duties.

Their usage has increased over the past several years after incidents including the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in 2014 and the 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody.

A 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice and conducted with officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department found that members of the public submitted fewer complaints of officer misconduct, and the video record protected police from “frivolous” complaints.

The findings also indicated police are more proactive in preventing crime when wearing cameras. In addition to providing “compelling evidence” to build legal cases, the use of body cameras “largely affirmed and validated positive officer behavior,” according to the study.

The study found that body-worn cameras also reduced use-of-force incidents, yielding significant cost savings when less time and money are spent on investigations.

“I’m a total advocate of the body cam,” Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond said. “It’s an excellent resource to maintain the integrity of what we do and to maintain complete transparency with the public.”

That integrity and transparency comes with a cost. But it is one we feel is worth it. 

The department budgeted approximately $10,500 for 15 cameras to be worn by patrol deputies, according to DuMond, who said he plans to eventually expand the program to outfit deputies throughout the department.

“The easy part is buying the body cameras and issuing them to the officers. They are not that expensive,” Jim Pasco of the National Fraternal Order of Police told the Washington Post in January. “But storing all the data that they collect — that cost is extraordinary. The smaller the department, the tougher it tends to be for them.”

In Delaware County, the road patrol lieutenant will have access to the footage, which may be reviewed periodically for performance evaluation and can also be presented as evidence in court cases, DuMond said.

We believe the footage should be accessible to the public, as well, under the Freedom of Information Law.

The cameras will not be recording at all times, but will document most interactions with the public, from routine traffic stops to more serious investigations, DuMond said.

The devices are programmed to begin recording when the emergency lights on a patrol car are activated, and will record when deputies take witness statements.

“It’s the perfect witness,” DuMond said. “It doesn’t have motivations, it doesn’t take sides — it’s a clear and concise account of the events that took place.”

Federal agents never wear body cameras, and they prohibit local officers from wearing them on joint operations, according to an article in the Washington Post.

When Atlanta, Georgia, Police Chief Erika Shields, a native of Morris, found out about the federal “no camera” policies, she and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms decided to pull Atlanta’s officers out of joint task forces with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, about 25 officers total, according the Post.

“If you’re policing and you’re policing properly,” Shields said, “you have nothing to fear” from wearing a body camera.

We couldn’t have said it better.

We would hope that soon, just as we expect law enforcement officers to carry guns, they will also wear body cameras. 

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