Picture this: Body-cameras on DC police

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- There are more ways to be caught on video than ever before: speed and red light cameras, cell phone cameras, police dashboard cameras.

Now, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says she is committed to implementing a body-camera program for her officers.

"This really has the potential to transform, in a very good way, relations between the police and public," said Phillip Eure, Executive Director of the D.C. Office of Police Complaints.

Too often Eure sees when trust is broken in the important relationship between the police and the public.

Eure's office, which is independent of the Metropolitan Police Department, handles public complaints about police misconduct, ranging from harassment to discrimination to rude behavior.

In an effort to reduce misconduct, the Office of Police Complaints supports Chief Lanier's proposal to strap cameras to her officers.

"If a citizen knows they're being recorded, they're likely to behave in a better way but so is the officer," said Eure, who illustrated scenarios where body-cameras could be used ranging from police raids to routine traffic stops.

Which officers, how many and when officers would be required to wear body-cameras are questions that do not yet have answers.

Also, Chief Lanier has not specified what type of cameras would be used -- helmet, glasses or goggles, chest or body.

But as Lanier's Metropolitan Police Department develops a pilot program and shapes their policies regarding body-cameras, they have at least one example to consider - the Laurel, Md. Police Department, which implemented helmet cameras last year.

Eure added that the video captured by officers could also be a judicial instrument, used by prosecutors and defense attorneys in court.

"It could help clarify and prove things and streamline things. If you've got it on film, it conceivably could expedite the way that a lot of these cases, be it through the administrative process or through criminal process, could be handled," said Eure.

D.C. resident Chris Sluter sees the benefit in adding a body-camera to a police officer's uniform.

"I think it's a good idea because it would hold police accountable for their actions," said Sluter.

Eure stressed that there are still many issues that police need to consider before strapping cameras to their officers, including privacy rights of the innocent who are accidentally recorded and also the rights of suspects.

"It's kind of self incriminating, you don't even know you're doing something wrong but then police have it on tape," said Bethany Gilchrist, another D.C. resident who sees some benefits in the cameras but also raises some concerns.

"It could be an instrument for a loss of more civil liberties," said Felicia Eaves, who also lives in the District.

Other questions and concerns include how long would police save body-cam video? Where will it be stored? Who will have access to it?

"The citizen will not know if the footage is original, it has been tampered with," said Emmanuel Tavalillo, one District resident who said he's not sure if the cameras are necessary.

Still, Tavalillo said he is all for increased police protection, as long as it's done correctly.

"If you really want this to work you want to make sure the citizen knows about it and that the citizen is on board," said Tavalillo.


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