South Carolina Police shooting rekindles debate over police body cameras

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — The heart stopping amateur video of a police officer shooting an unarmed suspect — and possible cover-up of the incident — has renewed debate over police body cameras by western New York police departments.

Several western New York police agencies already have them, and police brass say, the clip-on cameras are working well, with very few downsides for police or the public.

City of Lockport police were the latest department in western New York to clip on body cameras, back in January. To cover the cost, the city used drug asset forfeiture money from the federal government.

Lockport Police Chief Lawrence Eggert said, at the time, it is all about getting back the public’s trust.

“Relations with the community are not as good as they should be. This is really a simple way–and a very inexpensive way–to protect not only the police officers, but the community, until we can bring that level back up to a more acceptable level.”

North Tonawanda police have been using body cameras for 4 years, and Police Chief William Hall says, the cameras have had a positive effect, so far.

“It has helped me, as a police chief, immensely,” said Hall, who added, the cameras are mandatory for his officers, but, due to their union contract, actual use of the cameras is optional. “Each officer is going to take a camera with him, make sure it is operational, and whether he turns it on or off or not, that is up to him.”

With cameras everywhere, police are under constant scrutiny. Police officials point out, a body camera can often be their best evidence when an officer’s conduct is being questioned.

A prime example was police dash cam video of a Texas officer’s takedown of an unruly suspect, last August. The dash cam images seem to raise questions about the officer’s use of physical force to subdue the suspect.

But the officer was wearing a body camera, and slow motion video from the policeman’s camera shows the suspect punching the officer, who subsequently made the arrest and was later cleared of potential misconduct claims.

Chief Hall says whenever there is video accompanying a complaint in his department, the officer has been cleared.

“At the end of the day, I think it makes everybody behave a little better — not only the police officers, but also the people they are dealing with.”

Many of the larger police departments, such as Buffalo and Cheektowaga are studying the use of body cameras. The biggest obstacle right now, is cost.

In December President Obama proposed spending $263 million to equip America’s police with body cameras, but that plan is also being studied.