Police need to wear cameras on Kansas City’s streets

08/24/2014 10:00 AM

08/24/2014 5:28 PM

Kansas City police officers should be required to wear on-body cameras that record their interactions with the public. And that’s going to happen, says Police Chief Darryl Forté. Just not yet.

In an interview, Forté last week laid out a few concerns about the cameras, while repeatedly stressing that he understood the value they would bring to safely policing city streets.

“We’ll certainly have them in Kansas City,” he said. “It’s the right tool, but we have to do it right, too.”

The Board of Police Commissioners, at its meeting on Tuesday, should impress on Forté the need to move ahead with this important project. The chief said he likely would request some funds to begin using body cameras in 2015. City Manager Troy Schulte also said last week he supports the initiative.

As events showed in Ferguson on Aug. 9 — when a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager, setting off days of protests there — the lack of video can lead to destructive problems for a community. In Ferguson, different versions have spread about how the officer and victim acted in the seconds before the shooting. A body camera could have quickly provided video that would have cleared up the confusion.

While law enforcement agencies across the metropolitan area and the nation adopt this technology, however, they are running into concerns within their ranks as well as from the public about the cameras, which often are clipped to the front of an officer’s shirt. The cameras can record video and sound. Some departments let officers decide when to turn them on; in others, the cameras are turned on during every interaction with the public.

Forté says he wants to put in place the best possible policies, especially if and when cameras could be turned on during discussions with sexual assault victims, anonymous sources, children or even police supervisors.

Those are legitimate questions. But they also are ones that other cities have wrestled with and resolved over the last few years.

Forté properly says costs have to be factored in, not just for buying the cameras (which can run from $400 to $700 each) but also for storing all the data they capture. Those expenses could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a city the size of Kansas City.

But the cameras also can lead to crucial cost savings.

The city wouldn’t have to buy cameras for police vehicles in the future, Forté says, when on-body cameras are capturing what an officer does.

Even more notably, as has occurred in other U.S. cities, the cameras should reduce unfounded claims of police brutality and the legal expenses associated with defending them.

The use of body cameras ought to help improve trust between the police and the public, as officers would be held more accountable for their actions. Forté says he’s confident most of Kansas City’s men and women in blue would embrace the new technology.

Still, rogue law enforcement actions can occur even when the cameras are rolling, as occurred all too frequently in Ferguson. The best tool for effectively protecting the public is a dedicated, highly competent police officer.

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