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Opinion: Body Cameras Are Necessary Equipment for Police

If one of the goals and responsibilities of government is transparency, then video footage from police body cameras is vital to ensuring accountability, or at least the perception of accountability.

by Pat Sangimino, Lincoln Journal Star / June 12, 2020

(TNS) — If one of the goals of government is transparency, video footage ensures accountability, or at least the perception of it.

We only need to look at the tragic death of George Floyd to understand the impact of video footage, which, thanks to an onlooker with the foresight to turn on her iPhone camera, allowed the world to witness his horrible end under the knee of an abusive Minneapolis police officer.

Without the video, his death, while still just as tragic, would not have stirred so much raw emotion. A picture might tell a thousand words, but in this newfangled world, a few minutes of video footage -- mixed with the viral powers of the social media -- speaks volumes.

Without video proof of a police officer's knee against the neck of Mr. Floyd for the final nine minutes of life, his death might not have outraged a nation, spurred a series of nationwide protests or served as a catalyst for a police reform movement.

Among the local ripples was Lancaster County Commissioner Sean Flowerday's push for Sheriff's Office deputies to begin wearing body cameras.

We wholeheartedly endorse the action -- and urge other commissioners who might be worried about the cost to look at partnering somehow with the system that's in use by the Lincoln Police Department.

This is an important time in American policing, which now begins the slow road back to regaining the trust of the people -- all people -- it is charged with serving and protecting.

Body cameras, properly used, are a useful tool to establish that trust by providing transparency -- for both the officer and the public.

Body camera technology helps others understand what happens when police interact with the public. Most often, they will show routine interactions and officers acting responsibly and by the book.

Video will show that sometimes bad people do bad things and officers are justified in their actions. It will also show those times when cops do bad things.

If an officer is following the guidelines of his or her training, we believe body cameras should be deemed a necessary -- and welcomed -- piece of personal protective equipment.

Unfortunately, we hear too many stories of body cameras not being activated. Louisville, Kentucky's police chief was fired last week after it was learned that officers involved in a shooting that killed the owner of a barbecue spot failed to activate body cameras during the chaos.

That mustn't happen here. LPD has put in place a lengthy list of rules, regulations and requirements for its officers regarding body camera technology. There is also punitive action for those who ignore the rules. We strongly urge that Lancaster County implement similar regulations before launching this initiative with the Sheriff's Office.

After all, technology is only as effective as a workforce's willingness to embrace it.

©2020 Lincoln Journal Star, Neb. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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