Give police body cams

Johnson City Press • Apr 18, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Equipping all local law enforcement officers with body cameras will be an expensive endeavor, but it’s a necessary step in a world of ever-increasing scrutiny of police activities.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office wants to equip all patrol and school deputies with the cameras — a plan that comes with a $548,000 price tag. As Staff Writer Becky Campbell reported in Sunday’s edition, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley would like to do the same.

All 16 of the Jonesborough Police Department’s full-time officers have them, which proved important last month when an officer shot and killed a machete-wielding man on U.S. Highway 11E.

Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner, however, told Campbell while he would eventually take a look at cams for patrol officers, they would not be on his radar in the next few months as he works on the department’s budget.

Let’s hope he can find room in the budget sooner than later.

Video technology has been a game changer in police work. Investigators rely on surveillance images from banks, retailers, government offices and home security systems to help track down criminals on a regular basis.

But video is a double-edged sword for both criminals and police. It can exonerate. It can convict. It can confuse. It can inflame.

From the Rodney King beating in 1991 to recent police shootings, video has been a deciding factor in how the public and the courts view interactions between citizens and the police. More and more of those interactions have been recorded thanks to both law enforcement’s investments in cameras and the proliferation of video-capable cellphones. In many cases, recordings offered clarity. Dash cam video was heavily used in the 2013 trial of three people convicted of running down a Washington County deputy during a robbery chase.

Body cams should be another tool in the shed. More of the story is always better. Interestingly, though, a 2016 Pew Research Center show the public has more support (93 percent) for body cams than police do (66 percent.) Thankfully, that’s not the attitude in Jonesborough.

“Anytime we have a complaint on an officer, we review the body cam footage,” Jonesborough Public Safety Maj. Jamie Aistrop told Campbell. “Ninety-nine times out of 100 we feel like the body cam exonerates the officer.”

Every law enforcement officer should be equipped with a body cam. Both the public’s and law enforcement’s interests would be well served.

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