When police agencies around the country agreed to begin using body cameras, both cops and protesters cheered. The police believe having the cameras can protect them from undue criticism and false accusations of brutality or misconduct. While the protesters believe the presence of cameras will reduce what they frame as an “epidemic” of police violence.
But that moment of agreement pushes agencies that are slow to adopt cameras as outliers … and those feelings are amplified when police have cameras but opt not to use them. These feelings explode when incidents happen like what happened recently in Minneapolis.
According to various media reports, Justine Damond, Australian woman called police to report what she thought might be a sexual assault in progress outside her home. When police arrived, Damond approached the vehicle to speak to the officers. From there, the details get fuzzy. What’s known, though, is that officer Mohamed Noor shot and killed the 40-year-old woman. Both officers were wearing cameras, but they had turned them off prior to the interaction with Damond.
Citizens in both the United States and Australia were outraged. And the fact that the police in question had cameras but didn’t have them on created a huge groundswell of public discontent. This anger put into stark contrast the actions of more than one agency across the country that purchased body camera equipment but don’t always wear it or turn it on. The DOJ actually chastised the Albuquerque police department for failing to turn cameras on due to “lack of supervisor enforcement.”
A private investigation into the Denver PD concluded that officers only turned cameras on in about 25 percent of use-of-force incidents. And, in Minneapolis, where the shooting took place, an MPD departmental report admitted most officers only had the camera on for about 20 minutes in an eight-hour shift.
Industry experts are blaming the “newness” of the technology for the apparent slow adoption of the cameras. And yet, just a few years ago, many departments were excited about the opportunity to protect themselves with video.
This dichotomy is not sitting well with citizens, either in the States or in Australia, who want more accountability and fewer excuses. The shooting has sparked another round in the continuing and contentious public debate between what to do to protect cops and what to do to protect citizens. This incident, coupled with the recent murder of a police officer and mother of three, Miosotis Familia, who was simply seated in her squad car at the end of her shift, have both sides of the argument on high alert.
Tempers are on edge, and no one seems to be willing to listen to the other side. To get a message across here and make any headway, someone is going to have to step between them with a message both sides will be willing to hear.