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Editorial: Smaller police departments shouldn't give up on bodycams

Police departments, particularly smaller ones, are shying away from requiring their officers to wear body cameras because of the cost. It’s not too surprising; the cameras are one expense, but that pales in comparison to the price of storing the electronic video create.

But, as some of these departments decide they can’t afford the clarity offered by these cameras, they are giving insufficient consideration to the price of forgoing it and to the possibility of finding new sources of revenue to defray the costs. They should think again.

The Washington Post recently reported on the matter, focusing on police departments in a Chicago suburb as well as in Nebraska, Virginia and Wisconsin. But those size departments compose much of the fabric of law enforcement around the country, including Western New York. They are too important to decide, without creative effort, that they can’t afford the advantages that cameras provide.

The only municipalities that don’t benefit from equipping their officers with body cameras are those where nothing bad ever happens – that is, a place of the imagination.

Crime is a given, of course. So are people who maliciously claim abuse by police and so are officers who shouldn’t be wearing the uniform. Body cameras can’t guarantee to restrain all miscreants or even to clearly document any given event. But, often enough, they do.

Indeed, they have done so twice in Western New York recently. In the City of Tonawanda, police officials say that video from body cameras cleared officers who were accused by a suspect of using excessive force. Meanwhile, recently disclosed video from body cameras and other sources showed Erie County Sheriff’s Deputy Kenneth Achtyl attacking a man at a Buffalo Bills game in late 2017.

This is 21st century technology that will only become more routine. Police departments should no more refuse it than hospitals should reject electronic medical records.

The only real issue can be cost, unless police departments are fearful of showing how their officers conduct themselves. Where money is a hurdle, municipalities should seek other funding, including from private foundations that would be happy to contribute to the cause of public safety.

Higher levels of government might also be interested in keeping police departments technologically current. And, given the trends of modern gadgetry, it would be surprising if the costs don’t come down as technology improves and competition increases.

There may be other ways for municipalities to cut the costs of improving their policing. The last thing they should do is throw up their hands and walk away from technology that can be transformative.

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