INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Police officers in the St. Louis suburb where a white officer shot and killed an unarmed African-American teenager last month are now wearing body cameras. It’s a move that’s caught the attention of police agencies across the country, including Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Ferguson officers began wearing the cameras over the weekend, in wake of the controversial shooting of Michael Brown. The cameras, donated by two private companies last week, are designed to record every move made by the department’s 50 officers.
Lack of such video evidence was a critical part of what became a series of violent protests on Ferguson’s streets last month. Police Chief Tom Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he believes body cameras would have made a difference in the investigation into Brown’s shooting.
It was a sentiment echoed by a small group of teens on Indianapolis’ Monument Circle Monday afternoon.
RALLY FOR JUSTICE
“Body cameras bring a sort of connection between [police] and the people, so they both know exactly what went on,” said Lily Crews, who organized a Labor Day rally on the Circle in support of racial equality. “I think it’s a positive thing.”
Crews and 15 other Indianapolis Herron High School students held signs and shouted, eliciting honks of support from passing cars. Their goal, Crews said, was to start a community conversation about race.
“We are hopefully helping to raise awareness for racial discrimination happening in our community,” she said. “Our big overall theme is that — to change the way society views racism is to change the way youth think about it. [Brown] could have gone to our school. He was about to go to college when this happened. It hits pretty close to home.”
It was a message repeated at rallies across the country over the holiday weekend, including a rally on Saturday in Ferguson.
But, this time, protesters there had a new audience: cameras worn by the officers watching them.
A NEW WATCHFUL EYE
The models used there are battery operated and record both video and audio for up to 12 hours. They are designed to attach to an officer’s uniform shirt.
Similar models have recently been put into use in small numbers at several Central Indiana departments.
The Daleville Police Department in Delaware County outfitted every one of its four on-duty and 30 reserve officers with a body camera in May and June.
But, full deployment of body camera systems has been slow in most other areas.
Greenwood Police have four body cameras currently in use, said Deputy Chief Matt Fillenwarth. The department hopes to expand the program to equip all officers as soon as funding is available, he added.
The Clinton County Sheriff’s Department recently began outfitting its officers with body cameras at a cost of about $250 each.
“There’s always two sides to the story, and this doesn’t lie,” said Clinton County Chief Deputy Joe Mink, holding one of the cameras. “It tells you exactly what happened.”
Several Indiana State Police officers are also wearing body cameras. But, each was purchased with an officers’ own funding.
IMPD PILOT PROGRAM PLANNED
IMPD has also been working to equip officers with body cameras for the last few months.
“It’s been in motion for quite some time,” said IMPD Sgt. Kendale Adams. “We have a vendor that we have spoken with that’s going to provide us with six cameras, and we will deploy those to six officers in 15 day intervals.”
The planned 30-day pilot program is expected to begin “very soon,” Adams said.
But, expanding the program beyond the initial six cameras will be challenging.
“To be quite honest, it’s an expensive project,” Adams said. “That’s why we’re deploying the six [cameras] to get feedback from the officers, get feedback from the citizens about the value of that type of equipment being issued to IMPD. You have to consider the financial constraints of trying to equip 700-800 officers with these body cameras. I mean, there’s a price tag on that.”
Estimates for a full roll out of the cameras in IMPD could top $2 million. That’s a tough sell in an already tight budget.
But, IMPD brass also see the potential value in the program, Adams said, particularly for a department that doesn’t utilize car mounted dash cameras. Some vendors are offering combination packages that would install dash cameras as well, he said.
“The benefits are both internal and external. There are benefits on both sides. And, obviously, as we get ready to deploy our pilot program, we’ll be looking at that,” Adams said.
Those watching Monday’s rally on the Circle seemed to echo that support.
“It’s good for the police to have that backup,” said Ted Stoneberg, of McCordsville. “But, it’s good for us as the public too to make sure there’s not police retaliation against certain people. And, I suspect, as there’s more tension between police and the community, there will be a need for it.”
“I think it would be a big improvement for everybody, both in keeping officers safe and citizens,” agreed Angelique Aynes, a junior at Herron. “I’m definitely optimistic this is a good move.”