Yes and yes.
There was good news this week on the police use of body cameras from both Racine County and the Village of Mount Pleasant.
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling announced a proposed $86,025 technology change to upgrade to Bluetooth activated cameras that will turn on police body cameras that will turn on automatically whenever a deputy draws their firearm or Taser or activates the emergency lights on their squad car.
And in Mount Pleasant, Village Administrator Maureen Murphy said the village’s proposed new budget includes $100,000 for new police body cameras that will also be synced with squad cameras so officers won’t have to turn them on manually.
The lament there, of course, is that it wasn’t done earlier. Ty’ Rese West, 18, was shot and killed in an officer-involved shooting this summer and, while the officer was wearing a body camera, it was not activated and there is no footage of the shooting itself. After an investigation, the officer was not charged, but the shooting roiled the community and the village’s policy that made it optional for officers to use body cameras has drawn harsh criticism. That policy, too, is expected to be reviewed in the budget process.
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These are good steps to promote public safety, transparency in law enforcement interactions with citizens and accountability for law enforcement agencies. They are also a bulwark against frivolous charges and accusations of misconduct by law officers who are doing their duty and have to deal with citizens under often trying circumstances.
As Sheriff Schmaling put it: “The camera doesn’t lie.”
He said that writing a “five-figure check” for this purchase right now will pay off, especially if it prevents the county from having to pay $1 million or more in a wrongful death lawsuit that could have been avoided if there was video evidence.
We agree wholeheartedly. Both expenditures are a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits they could provide and we would urge local governments to support them — both for the accountability they would provide and the protection they would afford our law officers.