Better late than never – body cameras for Wilmington police

    As pressure mounts to regain community trust and prevent complaints, Mayor Williams explores the option of police body cameras.

    Here is John Watson’s commentary:

    I have wondered for a long time why the Wilmington Police Department was waiting and waiting to put police body cameras in operation. And now it looks like it’s finally happening.

    Police Spokeswoman Sgt. Andrea Janvier says, “In addition to developing policies, the department doesn’t currently have the capabilities to maintain the data captured by the cameras. There is a lot more to it than just putting cameras on and starting to use it. We have no opposition at all to maintaining and putting cameras on us, it is just not that easy.”

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    After controversial police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri; North Charleston, South Carolina and the death of 24 year old Freddie Gray, while in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland; Richard Smith, President of the Delaware NAACP, is urging state-wide police agencies to use cameras.

    Middletown, Delaware has had body cameras for a couple of years. The Dover Police Department is open to the idea of body cameras, says Police Cpl. Mark Hoffman.

    After watching the video of a Dover police officer kicking an unarmed suspect in the head, it occurs to me that we would have known what really happened if body cameras had been worn.

    Some law enforcement agencies are responding to these brutal cases, and public demand for accountability, by equipping police officers with body worn cameras. Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams says, “I want to make sure we get ahead of the curve. The departments that sit around and wait are going to be left at the stop light.”

    Williams said he intends to have the city’s police officers equipped with body cameras by the end of the year. In an effort to regain the community’s trust and prevent future complaints against police officers, he signed an executive order to implement a study on the use of body cameras in the Wilmington Police Department.

    Mayor Williams is quoted as saying something I have thought for a long time about body cameras. He says, “Body cameras are something that keeps everybody honest, the officers and the citizens alike. It could be a crucial piece of equipment that can build trust between the police department and the community.”

    The Wilmington Police Department currently has 13 body cameras in storage, where the mayor says they will remain. He voiced concern that the type of body cameras they have now can be turned off by those wearing them, “We don’t want to erode public trust.”

    Smith called all of this a “misuse of technology”. He said taxpayer money has been used to purchase the cameras and therefore they need to be put into use, “It seems to be that the police department always says that we are working on policies when they don’t want to do something.”

    Williams announced that after the policy is adopted he plans on holding a series of public meetings to explain exactly how the cameras will be used and what rights the public has for access.

    In the wake of community policing concerns seen in headlines nationwide, the Obama Administration has committed $20 million dollars to police departments for body cameras. The grant program requires a 50 percent local funding match and evaluations of how well the program works. Mayor Williams plans to work on an amendment to the city’s budget sometime during the year.

    While a variety of groups support the use of cameras including The Fraternal Order of Police and the ACLU, they also emphasize creation of a policy is important to using the body cameras and the culture of policing must also change.

    Those of you with concerns about the body cameras, be sure you attend the public meetings Mayor Williams will be holding once the policy is adopted, so you can ask questions and get answers about just how the cameras will be used.

     John Watson is a long time observer of Wilmington and Delaware from his perch as a radio talkshow host. You can write him:


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