Body Cameras Part 4: What are the Costs to NOT use Cameras?

by Safety Connection

The top con of body-worn cameras is the price tag. And they aren’t cheap. The storage and increased personnel cost more than the cameras themselves.

However, like Madison Police Chief Barnes said in a recent meeting, “Good police departments are expensive. But you know what’s even more expensive? Bad police departments.”

An example of this would be the Minneapolis Police Department, known to have serious problems for years. Recently, the City of Minneapolis settled a lawsuit by George Floyd’s family through a historic $27 million payout, before the jury was even finished being selected.

The lawsuit said the city allowed for a culture of excessive force and racism to proliferate within the police department. Speaking Friday, lawyers representing Floyd’s family members said they are encouraged that the Minneapolis police department has undergone substantial reforms, but will push for more change.

Lawyer Antonio Romanucci said the family hopes more reforms will be implemented at the police department, including a panel to review all use of force incidents, a quality assurance unit to ensure reforms are adhered to, and an early intervention system that will rely on analytics to identify problem officers. He said the settlement should be a “wake-up call” for police departments across the country to swiftly take up reforms to prevent needless death and serious injury.

Here in Madison, in 2015 the City of Madison paid out $3.35 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit with the family of Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old unarmed, biracial man. The settlement included no acknowledgement of wrongdoing and Officer Matt Kenny was found to have acted in accordance with his training and the shooting was labeled a “lawful use of deadly force.”

As in the recent officer-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, body camera evidence can be key in these cases. The District Attorney in Kenosha said the significance of not having body cameras in this case was immense. He was clear that body camera footage would have aided them in their investigation. Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne is clearly in support of body-worn cameras and would like to review footage before charging decisions are made.

In weighing the pros and cons of body-worn cameras, the price tag of the cameras, storage, and increases in personnel are something to consider. But we must also consider the cost of not having a body camera program, both in terms of monetary costs, the cost of human life, and transparency.

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