DC Metropolitan Police Department to Launch Body Camera Pilot Program

In a response to the ongoing controversy sparked by the police shooting of an unarmed black team in Ferguson, MO, the Metropolitan Police Department has joined several other agencies across the country in the move to test our body-mounted cameras on patrol officers. The MPD will launch a six month citywide pilot program, starting October 1. WJLA quoted MPD Director of Communications Gwendolyn Crump said the program’s planning has been going on for the past 18 months and the initiative will be publicly announced soon.

The body camera pilot program’s details were discussed Wednesday at a stakeholder meeting with police, lawyers, and civil liberties advocates, according to the Washington Times.

DC is among several other cities implementing similar body camera programs. The New York City Police Department announced Thursday that it is launching a pilot program to test sixty body-mounted cameras.  New York City Police Commissioner, William Bratton, believes that the cameras will soon be a part of an officer’s every day attire, including radios and bulletproof vests.

The Metropolitan Police Department says that $1 million of District funds were withdrawn in May to purchase the body cameras.  So far, they have received 250 cameras according. The Ferguson Police Department received a donation for cameras for every police officer on their force.

Reports of excessive force, police brutality, and racial profiling have severely tarnished Ferguson’s image and have shed light on on-going problems not only in Missouri, but throughout the country. The extreme police brutality that lead to Michael Brown’s death — as well has the inept handling of the events following his slaying — has subjected the area’s law enforcement agencies to extreme scrutiny.

There are two schools of thought on the body cameras, with one group maintaining that use of the body cameras will cause police officers to think twice before using excessive force. Conversely, the cameras may also provide clear cut evidence of events involving use of force. In the case of Brown’s shooting, for example, a camera would likely have shown if he rushed the officer repeatedly, as the officer has claimed, or if he was backing away with his hands in the air, as numerous witnesses have described, when he was shot and killed.

DC Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier put it very succinctly when she was quoted by the Washington Times as saying, “One of my top priorities is to implement a pilot project to test the use of body cameras for our police officers, a tool that more police agencies are using to establish a record of police actions. These records can help to protect the public in cases of officer misconduct. It also protects officers from spurious complaints.”  The District’s Police Complaints Board has endorsed the department’s decision to go ahead with the pilot program.

Many questions remain, including whether or not the images will be made available to the public, or to an individual or their attorney if they have a claim of brutality or use of force against an officer in relation to their arrest. But the pilot program, at least on the surface, seems an obvious step in the right direction. It is too early to say whether or not this pilot program will cause changes regarding racial profiling, police brutality, and excessive force amongst police officers.  However, one could imagine how differently certain situations — like the death of Michael Brown — could turn out to be if body cameras are available and in use.