Only one of the four fatal shooting involving police in Charlotte, North Carolina, were captured by body cameras since the force bought them for officers eight months ago.
The city spent $7.2 million to buy about 1,400 of the lipstick-sized cameras for each of its patrol officers starting in September.
But the cameras were not given to SWAT officers or members of tactical units who apprehend violent criminals.
Civil rights advocates like Susanna Birdsong, the policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, say that needs to be addressed to keep officers accountable.
“I think that they should be without question outfitted with body cameras. The need for transparency and accountability is heightened because there’s a risk that these encounters are going to be confrontational,” Birdsong told The Charlotte Observer.
But Charlotte’s force only has a limited amount of money, and Police Chief Kerr Putney has decided he would rather put more officers on the streets than get cameras for detectives and members of the force’s tactical units, said police Maj. Stephen Willis, who helped create the city’s body camera program.
“The $7.2 million we asked city council for was a large chunk of change,” Willis said. “We wanted to put the money where the work was being done, and that was in patrol.”
The department has not determined how much it would cost to put all its officers in body cameras and would not say how many officers are on SWAT and tactical teams, saying it could threaten their safety.
Requiring tactical units to wear body cameras could also jeopardize how they do their job. While body camera footage is not available under public records law, it is required to be given to people arrested and their lawyers. That footage could show police tactics, Willis said.
Officers involved in tactical units were involved in two fatal shootings by Charlotte police since September. An off duty officer providing security at a mall on Christmas Eve without wearing a camera killed a third person, and the fourth shooting of a man who witnesses said fired dozens of shots at police and taunted them was captured on a body camera.