It’s about time. I have been pushing for body cams for all law enforcement agencies ever since their inception! They are so beneficial in many ways. In these days of increased tensions between police and the community, I say the more transparency, the better!
Excerpts from the Article:
The Wilmington City Council approved spending $400,000 on a Police Department-wide body camera program after years of activists’ calls for city officers to wear the equipment.
Now, the department hopes to use that footage to reduce lawsuits and complaints against officers and further repair relationships with the community.
The money, approved at Thursday night’s meeting, will be used to hire a police sergeant and three patrol officers to oversee the program.
For the program to start, city officials are still waiting for the approval of a federal grant, which would provide $542,388 to purchase cameras for a total of 319 sworn officers. A response from the U.S. Department of Justice is expected in the next two or three weeks, according to a Delaware criminal justice official who helped the city apply.
If rejected for the grant like the city was last year, Councilman Bud Freel said he will introduce another budget amendment to pay for the cameras with city funds. The council’s approval of the funds is the first budgetary commitment the city has made toward body cameras since the Police Department began testing the equipment nearly five years ago. Community activists, the NAACP and former Mayor Dennis Williams had called for the cameras to increase trust between police and civilians.
A five-year, nearly $2 million contract between the city and Axon Enterprises Inc. for the cameras, maintenance and video storage is pending before the council. Freel said he hopes it’s approved in November.
Wilmington police have released little information about how a body camera program would be administered, but the city’s application for federal funding outlines some of the department’s intentions. In the application obtained by Delaware Online/The News Journal, Wilmington police list promoting transparency and accountability, decreasing complaints and lawsuits against the city, recording incidents for police training and increasing video evidence for criminal trials as goals for the body camera program.
Wilmington officials refused to release a copy of the grant application when requested in June through the Freedom of Information Act.
The application states the 315-person department – in which 255 officers regularly interact with the public –investigated 2,000 complaints against officers internally from 2015 to 2019. Three hundred of those came from civilians.
With body cameras, the department aims to reduce misconduct complaints by 25% by the end of the first year of the program and cut complaints in half by the end of the second year. The goals also include reducing civilian complaints by 30% by the end of the first year.
Nationwide studies are mixed on the effect of body cameras on officer complaints and on uses of force.
“In addition to the evidential value, [body cameras] expedite the investigatory process and allow investigators to come to a conclusion and share information before protests and distrust begin to escalate,” the application states.
Wilmington police intend to use body camera footage as evidence in both internal complaints and criminal trials, according to the application.
“Our agency is working on developing a policy that would guide the administration of a Body-Worn Camera program, and which will stipulate when cameras should be activated, with privacy concerns taken into consideration,” Karas wrote in an email.
“The AG supports body cameras as an assurance that quality evidence will be available from police officers’ interactions with the public,” Marshall wrote.