Justice Dept. awards $20 million for body cameras

Between the latest officer-involved fatal shootings in North Carolina and California came word the Justice Department was awarding more than $20 million to 106 state, municipal and tribal law enforcement agencies to establish and enhance body camera programs.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, during a late-September summit in Little Rock, Arkansas, said the awards would help law enforcement agencies implement body-worn camera policies, practices and evaluation methods to make a positive impact on the quality of policing in individual communities.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded more than $16 million to state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies — including in Wisconsin — as well as a $3 million supplemental award to continue support for body-worn camera training and technical assistance.

An additional $474,000 was awarded earlier this year under the 2016 Small Agency Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program.

“As we strive to support local leaders and law enforcement officials in their work to protect their communities, we are mindful that effective public safety requires more than arrests and prosecutions,” Lynch stated. “It also requires winning — and keeping — the trust and confidence of the citizens we serve. These grants will help more than 100 law enforcement agencies promote transparency and ensure accountability, clearing the way for the closer cooperation between residents and officers that is so vital to public safety.”

The Body-Worn Camera program was launched in 2015 in response to a recommendation by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing that law enforcement agencies use technology to strengthen relations with communities.

Initial research has shown that use of body-worn cameras improves officers’ interactions with the public.

195 and counting

The Justice Department announced the latest awards as protests continued over a fatal officer-involved shooting on Sept. 20 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Demonstrators, along with civil liberties groups such as the ACLU, were demanding the release of all body-camera and dash footage of the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.

He was the 194th black person killed by police this year, according to the Guardian database tracking officer-involved fatalities.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released portions of video footage from before and after the shooting.

The videos “raise a host of questions about why police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott and whether, in doing so, the officers involved violated state or federal law, in addition to failing to follow the department’s own rules regarding the use of deadly force,” said Susana Birdsong, policy counsel for the ACLU of North Carolina.

Then on Sept. 26, police in El Cajon, California, shot and killed Alfred Olango, who had pulled a large electronic cigarette — a vape pen — from his pocket.

Reports said Olango had been wandering in traffic, distressed at the recent death of a friend. The AP reported that it took more than an hour for police to arrive at the shopping center in response to Olango’s breakdown and about a minute for him to be shot and killed.

To the states

The latest Justice Department funding for body-camera programs will go to law enforcement agencies located in Wisconsin and 31 other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming — as well as Puerto Rico.

Tribal awardees include Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.