Body cameras only help when they’re on and working right.
Officer-involved shootings, thankfully, are few and far between in our communities.
But they do happen. A few months ago a suspect was shot and killed during an armed confrontation with Beloit police. In March, a subject was shot and wounded during an altercation with Janesville police.
In both incidents, the officers’ use of force was found to be justified after thorough investigation.
But, also, both incidents included a scarcity of images from the body cameras that increasingly are becoming standard equipment for police in America. There were various reasons the footage was not available. For example, in the more recent Janesville incident, four of five officers at the scene did not have their body cameras on and recording. Chief Dave Moore told Adams Publishing Group the incident occurred during shift change which accounted for the camera issue.
We have no interest in calling out officers or commanders in Beloit or Janesville over these two incidents. Investigations showed the officers acted appropriately under the circumstances and there’s no reason to question those conclusions. What happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis is very different than what happened here.
Nevertheless, as various reform discussions take place around the country, one of the key concerns involves making sure at-the-scene documentation is reliably performed and that means body cameras must work. Not sometimes. All the time.
Cameras are meant to protect both the public and police officers. When an incident occurs body camera footage can be a clear indicator of whether officers did everything right, or committed some egregious violation of a suspect’s human rights. That’s as important to the vast majority of great police officers as it is to members of the public.
The policing environment in America clearly has changed and it’s important for local departments to continue to get it right. Part of that process is making sure body cameras do what they are supposed to do, and work every time images are critical to assessing a violent incident.