Albuquerque incident proves effectiveness of police body cameras

Following the death of Eric Garner in New York and the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police scrutiny has reached peak levels, with protests across the nation calling for answers to excessive police force.

President Barack Obama and Congress have both responded by enacting plans for more police body cameras. Critics of these plans claim that police force-wide cameras are too expensive and that there is no evidence that the cameras will help with civilian interactions. While the jury is still out on their effectiveness, new benefits are starting to emerge for both civilians and police.

In March of last year, Albuquerque police shot and killed James Boyd, who was illegally camping. Video from a police body camera shows Boyd complying with police orders and grabbing for his bag, when the police used a flash grenade. Boyd then responded by grabbing at a knife, before being shot dead. The Albuquerque Police Department has had a long history of using excessive force, but this is the first case where a police officer has been charged with murder. Police body camera footage has been instrumental in the investigation.

Not only has body camera footage been helpful in investigations regarding police wrongdoing, it has recently been used as evidence in civilian trials. In Washington D.C., police responded to a simple assault call between Michael Fouse and Allen Wells. When the case finally went to court, Fouse claimed to be held down by two men and repeatedly punched and kicked; while Wells claimed that the fight broke out after Fouse tried to shove his way past him.

Wells's attorney called on footage taken by the responding officers' body camera. On the footage, Fouse never once mentioned the two other men. By calling upon the police footage, Wells's charge was lowered to simple assault. While the cases of when police body camera footage should be called upon are still up for debate, this case clearly shows how effective footage can be when dealing with eye witness reports.

The main argument against police body cameras is that the footage does not accurately portray events and cannot capture all the elements that go into police decisions. However, the use of body cameras has recently helped vindicate an Oklahoma police officer. The officer was called out to a Baptist church with a domestic abuse complaint.

There, a woman claimed that Terrence Walker had made threats against her life with a gun. When the officer confronted him, Walker made an attempt to flee. While fleeing, Walker stopped to pick up an object which appears to be a gun. The officer responded by firing five shots, which killed Walker. The Oklahoma police department has been completely upfront with the video and details of the incident. The event shows how body cameras can be an effective way of clearing police of guilt.

With the recent string of excessive police force, steps must be taken to prevent future incidents. While body cameras cannot be the only solution, they are big step in the right direction. Since the rush to equip officers with body cameras, they have proven to be an effective tool for both police and civilians.


Reach the columnist at Alec.Grafil@asu.edu or follow @AlecGrafil on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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