Commentary from Comptroller Darlene Green

Using Police Body Cameras to Cut Crime

August 25, 2014 | 2 min reading time

Ten days after the police involved shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, officials in the City of Ferguson issued a statement, expressing their "commitment to raise funds and secure dash and vest cams for our patrol cars." This is one of several ways that the city is trying to come together to protect the citizens and police officers since the tragic incident occurred.

In the case of Michael Brown, the shooting reportedly happened following an exchange between him and 28-year-old officer, Darren Wilson. There are conflicting accounts as to what happened that led to Brown's death, which raises the question of who's telling the truth? Is it Brown's friend, Dorian Johnson, who was with him at the time of the shooting? Or, is it the six-year police veteran, Darren Wilson, who has been on paid administrative leave since the incident.

Since the August 9th shooting, there's renewed interest in outfitting police officers with vest and dashboard cameras. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. While state and federal prosecutors continue to investigate the incident, there has been much speculation on both sides of the aisle. Having video of the shooting would be crucial to the investigation.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there's been much success with the body mounted cameras in Rialto, California. "In the first year after the cameras' introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%."

And now there's a proposed pilot program that would outfit dozens of New York City police officers with body-mounted cameras. Just three weeks before Michael Brown was shot and killed, 43-year-old Eric Garner died after he was put in a chokehold by a police officer with the NYPD. In the case of Garner, there is video of the police taking him down—not police video, but rather from a bystander who reportedly tried to intervene. One advocate in NYC says that outfitting every patrol officer in that city with a camera would cost around $32 million.

In the St. Louis metro, overall crime has dropped by nearly 50% since 2006, according to the SLMPD. However, St. Louis is still considered a very dangerous city. On its list of the 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S. in 2014, Neighborhood Scout ranks St. Louis at number 12.

Last November, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Chicago and pledged that the federal government would make more money available to help that city fight ongoing street violence. And police in Charleston, S.C. are aiming to get a Department of Justice grant to arm their officers with body cameras. The cost of police cameras can range anywhere from $400 to $1,400 each.

In light of Michael Brown's shooting in Ferguson, this region should come together and work hard to secure our share of money from the federal government. In addition to applying for federal dollars, we should explore other ways to fund cameras including monies collected from selling unclaimed property.

The bottom line is that police body and dashboard cameras are a public safety enhancement and should not be considered a luxury. There's just too much at stake for this not to happen.


  • Department:
    Office of the Comptroller
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