Kansas City and the nation got another lesson this week on the need for police body cameras — to protect officers from unfair accusations and to hold them accountable for their actions.
A 15-year-old boy was shot to death by a police officer after a party in Balch Springs, Texas. The victim had left the party and was riding in a car when he was killed.
The officer involved in the shooting and his department originally claimed the car was driving backward, threatening the responding police.
After reviewing body camera video footage, though, the Balch Springs chief of police revised his conclusions. The car was driving away from police, the video showed, and did not appear to pose a threat to the officers involved.
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The officer who fired the shots was dismissed. An investigation is underway.
We don’t prejudge the outcome of that inquiry — shots had been fired earlier at the party — but we do think the body camera footage will be critical in understanding what actually happened that night.
It’s a lesson Kansas City’s police department must understand.
Like many major cities, Kansas City is exploring a body camera program for its officers. The Board of Police Commissioners launched a pilot program last year, deploying 30 cameras. Results haven’t been made public.
By some estimates, it would cost about $1 million to buy body cameras for about 1,000 Kansas City officers. Estimates for storing the video and maintaining it vary — $500,000 a year seems to be the starting point — but the sum is reasonable for a department spending $250 million this year.
It’s imperative the department find the funds to begin implementing a full body camera program by the end of 2017.
The federal government’s forfeiture and seizure program would be a good place to look. The department received $1.2 million from the program last year and claims it holds $9.2 million in cash and assets in the forfeiture fund.
Some officers may resist body cameras. Their fear is misplaced. Many Kansas City officers opposed dash cameras, too, until they understood video recordings can protect police as well as hold them accountable.
The police board must begin writing a body camera policy as soon as possible. Are the videos public record? How long should they be kept? Can an officer review body camera video?
Other cities are grappling with the same issues. Yet most are moving toward body camera programs this year or next.
The new chief should be comfortable with the use of body cameras. They can protect the public and save lives.
We think $1 million is small price to pay for that.