Caught on Camera

An unarmed black man shot and killed by a police officer after a minor violation. In Ferguson, Missouri about a year ago it was jaywalking. In Cincinnati, Ohio, it was not having a front license plate. Two cases with a glaringly different outcome in terms of understanding what happened: during the shooting of Samuel Dubose a few weeks ago at the University of Cincinnati, Officer Ray Tensing was wearing a body camera.

From what I’ve seen and heard, and reports on the issue, it looks for all the world like Tensing simply lied about what happened, and his police officer colleagues backed him up even though it appears they had no idea what really happened.

Body cameras are now being worn by some police officers across our nation in an attempt to “increase transparency in police encounters and victim views of police legitimacy; deter police wearers of the cameras from abusive behavior and citizens from resisting police initiatives; have evidentiary benefits to support arrests and prosecution; and provide opportunities for police training (White, 2014).”

In Cincinnati, Tensing’s body camera provided just that – evidence. Tensing had his body camera on during the routine traffic stop subsequently providing immediate evidence of how the events unfolded.

The body camera made it possible to indict Tensing 11 days after the death of Dubose. Tensing was indicted on one count of murder and one count of voluntary manslaughter. The prosecutor’s comments on the case were startlingly candid. I can’t help but think that is a result of having the hard evidence of the body camera.

Although research on police body cameras is minimal thus far, some predict within the next two to three years, body cameras will be found in almost all police departments throughout our nation.

As a civil rights attorney who has investigated and litigated cases of police use of excessive force—including shootings of unarmed young black men—this is a great development for everyone, the public and the good police officers who feel conflicted about supporting the “blue code” versus doing what they think is right when a shooting seems bad. Early studies show everyone does better, because there are fewer uses of force, and fewer complaints about use of force.

What do you think about body cameras? Have you had an experience with (or without0 camera evidence involving police conduct?

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