Should All Police Wear Body Cameras?
EJ Montini is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. He has worked for The Arizona Republic for over 25 years covering a wide range of topics. This is his take on a very hot topic right now in the national news, police body cameras.
Is the death of Rumain Brisbon at a Phoenix apartment complex and the conflicting accounts about what happened further proof that every police officer everywhere should be equipped with a body camera?
Will that solve the problem?
Cameras don’t end all arguments. Cameras don’t alleviate distrust. Cameras don’t allay fears.
Just look at what happened in New York in the death of Eric Garner. Cell phone cameras recorded the entire event, yet the conclusions drawn by a grand jury and a significant portion of the public are completely different.
Still, cameras help.
It might have helped on Tuesday when a Phoenix police officer got into a confrontation with Brisbon. There was a struggle. The officer said he believed Brisbon to be reaching for a weapon, which turned out to be a bottle of Oxycontin pills. Two shots were fired into the man, and he died.
Phoenix police, understanding the nationwide tension created by incidents in Ferguson, Mo., and New York tried to get in front of the situation.
Phoenix Police Sgt. Trent Crump, a department spokesman, said, “I would like to think that in our officer-involved shootings, that we are transparent as we can be as an organization. We always have been and always will be concerned about what it is that our residents think about our role in this community and the levels of force that we use.
“Let’s be very clear: The officer was doing what we expect him to do, which is investigate crimes that neighbors are telling him are occurring in that part of the complex.”
It’s a good thing for the department to speak quickly and forcefully about the situation. But a video might have helped.
Other Valley departments already use them or are experimenting with them.
Earlier this year Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead said of the cameras his officers wear, “Right now, there are 250 million Americans out there with cellphones taking videos of incidents all over our country and posting them on websites. They usually post a little provocative piece of the video, and no one knows what happened before or after the contact.”
Milstead pointed to a 40 percent decrease in complaints filed by the public and a 75 percent drop in use-of-force complaints.
Body cameras are a medicine for what ails us, part of the treatment, but they’re not the cure.
They’ll be able to relieve some of the symptoms that make it hard for some people to trust the police and for the police to do their very difficult job.
Cameras are helpful. They’re important. These days, they’re necessary. But cameras can only record what’s on the outside. The antidote for our condition lies within.