Police and law enforcement agencies in the Kansas City area soon can apply for a share of $22.5 million in federal money recently made available to purchase and study the use of body-worn cameras for officers.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver announced Tuesday that he sought federal funding in the aftermath of nationwide protests over fatal officer-involved shootings of unarmed citizens, including the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
“I am very proud of the fact that, as we have had these explosions all around the country with community and police, that Kansas City has not had that kind of problem,” Cleaver said Tuesday. “I think that we are not a perfect police department, but I don’t think anybody can go on record and say we are in the same shape as Chicago or even St. Louis.”
About 25 to 30 cities are expected to win grants, Cleaver said. The money can be used to purchase body cameras or determine their feasibility. Cleaver said he would push Congress to free up additional funding for agencies to use body cameras on a long-term basis.
Some area law enforcement agencies, including the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, already have equipped their patrol and field officers with body cameras.
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp said he would welcome federal money to help pay for and study body cameras.
“We want to go home safe and we want our constituents and our people to be safe, and this offers everyone a chance to see how we do our business,” said Sharp, who attended a news conference Tuesday with Cleaver in Kansas City.
However, Sharp said concerns about individual privacy, storing the recordings and costs associated with the effort need to be worked out.
Police Chief Darryl Forté of Kansas City has assigned an internal group to determine department policy on how such cameras would be used, said Maj. Eric Winebrenner, commander of the Shoal Creek Patrol Division.
Currently, no Kansas City officer wears a body camera. Most officers he has spoken to about it want to wear them, Winebrenner said.
“They are able to show proof of how they have handled the call and they like that insurance,” he said.
Brown, who was black, was killed in August 2014 by white police officer Darren Wilson.
The shooting and lack of a charges against Wilson prompted massive and sometimes violent protests. Civil rights groups as well as African-American lawmakers, including Cleaver, called on law enforcement agencies to require body cameras when officers are interacting with the public.
The addition of body cameras will “give a great deal of additional comfort to both police and the public,” Cleaver said.