Some Still Skeptical About Increased Use of Police Body Cams

Aug 5, 2015

BodyWorn is one company which makes and sells body cameras to police departments.
Credit BodyWorn

Body cameras have been back in the news following a recent police shooting in Cincinnati.

Police departments across the state are either testing or wearing the devices and Dayton and Beavercreek are considering getting them. Equipping officers with cameras also is one of the recommendations from Governor John Kasich’s Task Force on Community-Police Relations.

But some are wondering if the move will only be a Band-Aid on a larger issue.

Two words come up often when people in law enforcement talk about body cameras - accountability and transparency.

Officers like Beavercreek Police Department Captain Eric Grile say having that footage means it will be harder to question a specific event.

“I have an audio/video recording of everything that corroborates the statement of the officer,” Grile said.

Though in certain cases, like the July 19 shooting death of Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop by then-University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing, police shooting in Cincinnati, the body camera footage actually counters what the officer said happened. Tensing told those in his department he was being dragged by DuBose’s vehicle before he shot and killed DuBose.

“No, he didn’t get dragged,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters after looking at the body camera video.

Last week, a Hamilton County grand jury indicted Tensing on a charge of murder, largely on the basis of the body camera video evidence.

Deters says the footage made all the difference in this situation.

“I think it’s a good idea for police to wear that, because nine times out of 10 it clears them of wrongdoing,” Deters said. “And in this case, obviously, it led to an indictment for murder.”

Deters will be able to use the video as evidence in the case.

Almost all Cleveland police officers are wearing body cameras now, too.

And Cleveland Police Detective Jennifer Ciacci says officers have been responsive to wearing the cameras. Although as with other aspects of their job, it takes repetitive training to get officers used to operating them.

“It’s more muscle memory than anything to have that thing on, Ciacci said. “And it’s just one more thing you do every time you get out of the car. Coming from basic patrol, having spent 13 years on the road prior to this job, I can tell you muscle memory is a huge part of what we do every day.”

Cleveland has already spent around $2.5 million on the cameras and data storage.

But not everyone thinks body cameras are the best way to go.

Dr. Ronnie Dunn is a professor at Cleveland State University and a member of the governor’s community-police relations advisory board. He points to the case in New York with Eric Garner as a reason why he’s apprehensive.

“There was perfect video of that incident with audio,” Dunn said. “And, you know, he could be heard saying ‘I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.’ And still, when that video was used in the grand jury process, there was not an indictment.”

He’s pushing for statewide legislation on racial profiling and requiring cultural competency training for officers.

Rev. Linda Stampley of Springfield says she doesn’t trust that each officer will always have the device turned on.

“So if the body camera’s turned off, or if they’re turned away from where the incident is happening, then it’s no good,” Stampley said. “It’s like the dashboard on the police car, once you walk outside of that realm, you don’t know what’s going on.”

Stampley has been taking part in protests over John Crawford’s death in a Beavercreek Wal-Mart since last year. She says police involved in these types of incidents need to be punished in order to prevent more from happening.

Stampley points out a grand jury didn’t hand down an indictment for the officer who shot Crawford even though there was footage recorded by a surveillance camera inside the Beavercreek Wal-Mart.

“The officers that shot and killed John Crawford shot and killed him,” Stampley said. “It wasn’t about having no cameras up above their heads or anything else. They just walked in, just gunned him down.”

For now, the Beavercreek Police Department is testing devices. Montgomery County and Dayton Police are also considering body cameras. And Dayton has applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Justice to pay for the devices. These moves show it’s not really an issue of if police will start wearing cameras but when.