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Editorial: Better policing is the goal of body cameras

The test begins this month and, if Buffalo police learn from the experience of other departments around the country, then we already know the result: Police here will adopt body cameras as standard equipment. The cameras will be a valuable tool for everyone except for trouble-making citizens and bad cops.

Many other cities have already implemented body cameras in their police departments, identifying and compensating for issues that have arisen. So unless the Buffalo Police Department is somehow different from others – it isn’t – then it can quickly identify best practices and adopt the routine use of body cameras.
A single disastrous example shows how they might have helped. Three years ago in Ferguson, Mo., violence erupted after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed an African-American teenager, Michael Brown.

Some witnesses said Brown was trying to surrender. The officer said he was defending himself from an assault. A camera might well have documented what actually happened and defused the anger that soon erupted.

But it goes back further than that. In the aftermath of the shooting, a Justice Department investigation showed that the mainly white police department functioned like an occupying force in Ferguson, chronically violating the civil rights of citizens by discriminating against African-Americans. What if cameras had picked that up earlier and forced reforms? How might that have changed what happened in 2014?

The point is that the cameras protect good people and help identify bad ones, whoever they are. In that, they will help to encourage better policing, which will help to develop the kinds of police-community relationships that improve safety and security.

There are some instances when the cameras shouldn’t be used, but other than those circumstances, the rule must be that cameras are routinely on or switched on as necessary. After the fatal police shooting of an innocent woman in Minneapolis this summer, in which cameras were off in violation of policy, the rule also has to be vigorously enforced.

This is a positive step, one that should be followed by installation of dashboard cameras. Clarity helps the cause of justice and peace.

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