Opinion

Tri-City Herald: Police body camera not necessarily the answer

Body cameras for police have been the topic of much discussion in the wake of some controversial deaths involving law enforcement officers.

When circumstances are murky in an officer-involved death, tensions run high. Without irrefutable proof of what happened, we end up with the violence and protests we have seen in places like Ferguson, Mo. Even when officers have been cleared, that is still not good enough for some, causing long-term unrest and distrust of law enforcement.

We are so accustomed to

video helping to solve a crime or show what happened, it seems to make sense. After all, dashboard cameras have been around for decades. Whether officers were victims or the ones who pulled the trigger, some believe body cameras are the only way to find the truth and reinforce faith in a police force.

But it is not that simple.

Local law enforcement agencies are not quickly buying into the trend.

Only one department — Hermiston — is using the technology, and others say they aren’t likely to follow suit anytime soon.

Nationally, the cameras are the focus of much attention. President Obama wants

$263 million to outfit police with body cameras. Seattle cops have tested them, and Los Angeles bought 7,000 cameras for its police department.

Locally, questions of reliability, cost, video storage and staff time top the list of worries.

Extra computer server space and management of data are other concerns. Adding video files to data storage creates a whole new layer of work and another set of records to be managed under public records law.

Some departments have even stopped using dashboard cameras because the technology failed too often. For example, if cameras don’t function correctly during an arrest, an officer could be accused of tampering with it.

Some local police say the

public’s trust is something that is earned by those who wear a badge, and a camera won’t change that.

Others disagree, claiming criminal cases could be solved faster, as could complaints against officers. And the body cameras would put officers on their best behavior.

And they’re willing to further research the camera’s potential.

We can certainly see both sides to the argument. In this video age, we expect the body cameras will someday be

commonplace.

In the meantime, it’s worth this gentle reminder: The

men and women in law enforcement are willing to put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect our communities.

Considering the cost, we aren’t pushing for body cameras at this time.

For the most part, local agencies have worked hard to earn the community’s trust in recent years, and that’s hard to put a price tag on.

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