Body cameras will make a huge difference

I start this with full disclosure that my brother is a police officer in Mt. Pleasant.

We are seeing more and more law enforcement-civilian encounters all the time. It’s definitely weekly, and in some instances it seems as if it’s daily. Everyone of them is captured on video, most of them recorded by someone nearby. Nearly all of them result in someone questioning the actions of the officers, even in those situations where clearly the officer right.

Body cameras on police officers will be a game changer. To see encounters from start to finish may change the perspective on some, probably many, but not all police-civilian encounters.

That does not imply all the incidents are justified, far from it. For instance, the cop who faces murder charges in North Carolina gets every punishment that comes his way. There is no disputing the fact he killed a man who was running away from him and was no threat to the officer.

But if you want proof that body cameras will tell the full story, just look at the footage of Officer Jesse Kidder’s encounter. Kidder is the Ohio police officer whose body camera showed a man with a gun begging Kidder to shoot him, essentially trying for suicide by cop.

What happens if, A. Kidder shoots the guy, B. he doesn’t have a body camera, and C. there are no other people in sight? The answer is fairly easy – outrage from the community about another “senseless shooting” and an investigation into Kidder’s behavior, which as shown by his body camera he showed incredible restraint. How many of us would have shot the man as he kept moving forward with a gun in his hand?

Imagine what a difference we might have had in the Michael Brown shooting if Darren Wilson had a body camera. If it proved Wilson’s version of the story we wouldn’t have had near the rioting or protesting (near because no incident these days goes with something it seems). If it didn’t back up Wilson’s version the changes in Ferguson would have been much broader and swifter – and we more than likely would have seen even larger scale rioting and protesting.

As more of these encounters are coming to light through video, snap judgements are being made on both sides of the argument. In this instant gratification world, we are creating instant judgements based on a video clip.

This is where body cameras would be a game changer. We never see the encounter from start to finish, we only see it after it has escalated. We are left to wonder what happened in those moments prior to what we have seen to provoke the encounter. We only have the two sides and the person who recorded it, and that person may be part of the problem and not just an innocent bystander.

There clearly had to be a trigger point that made someone pull out their cellphone and turn on the video recorder. But those important few moments before the camera started recording are missing. We don’t know why it started, only that it happened and its outcome. A body camera would show the encounter as it happened, and more importantly how it started.

The use of the cameras will exonerate good cops and will help catch bad cops. Some will argue that bad cops will find a way around it, but that would only shine a brighter light on those bad cops when they are unable to prove their actions. If anything, the bad cops – and let’s face it, they really are few and far between; they just ruin it for all members of law enforcement – more than likely will come closer to toeing the line knowing their actions are being recorded.

Body cameras cost money and most departments can’t afford them right now. And in Northeast Michigan their need is even less. But shouldn’t we want to find the money to make sure we don’t have those “big city” issues show up on our doorstep? Small-town tales spread rapidly, and it isn’t always the truth. It’s even more of a problem when those tales begin about law enforcement.

I’d rather have a clear-cut situation like Jesse Kidder than an uncertain one like Darren Wilson.

Steve Murch can be reached via email at smurch@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5686. Follow Steve on Twitter at sm_alpenanews. Read his blog, Pardon, Me But … at www.thealpenanews.com.