KC needs clear goals on police officers wearing body cameras

A police commander displayed one type of body-worn camera in Denver.
A police commander displayed one type of body-worn camera in Denver. The Associated Press

Over breakfast last week, Mayor Sly James talked with Police Chief Darryl Forté about whether his officers would wear body cameras on Kansas City’s streets. The chief’s verdict?

“They’re not ready for cameras” at the department, James told several City Council members meeting in his office.

Forté has cited several questions that he wants resolved before a decision is reached on whether to buy body-worn cameras, which became a national topic of interest after the police shooting of an unarmed man in Ferguson, Mo. Some large-city departments, such as Houston, have said they will purchase the cameras. Chicago and others want to test them in pilot programs.

At a Board of Police Commissioners meeting today, James and other members need to delve more deeply to find out how Forté and the department are going to resolve this hot-button issue.

▪ Who’s going to be involved at the Police Department — and from the general public — in weighing the pros and cons of using the cameras?

▪ Who will make the final decision on when and whether police would be required to record incidents?

▪ How much money would the agency need to buy the equipment and pay for long-term data storage, a cost that could reach into millions of dollars?

▪ What role would the Fraternal Order of Police play in whether hundreds of officers could have to wear the cameras?

▪ What’s the timetable for reaching a final conclusion?

Kansas City is far from alone in reviewing whether to embrace this technology. A recent report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice detailed benefits and concerns.

The positive side included potential improvements in behavior by citizens and officers. Cities that already have the cameras say they have reduced citizens’ complaints against police and protected police against unfounded accusations.

Major concerns include how the cameras intrude on the privacy of the public.

“Simply put, there is not enough evidence to offer a definitive recommendation regarding the adoption of body-worn cameras by police,” the report concluded. It urged departments to “proceed cautiously” while scrutinizing issues surrounding the cameras.

Given the cost of the new technology — and how it could positively affect policing in Kansas City for many years — this suddenly has become an important agenda item for the police board to stay on top of in the coming months.