As the city of Ferguson, Missouri, slowly recovers from the protests and riots after the grand jury announcement that former police officer Brian Wilson would not be charged for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, it’s clear that people are distinctly divided on the issue: a police officer was attacked so shot an 18 year old in self-defense or a white officer gunned down an unarmed black teenager. And there is really no gray area on the matter other than the fact that Brown will never be able to testify in his own defense. But Brown isn’t the only person to be fatally shot by an officer, regardless of the circumstances.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report in 2013, there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police in 2013. But not all law enforcement agencies report to the FBI database. Using news reports nationwide, the data reveals that some estimates go as high as 1,000 killings; justifiable or not remains to be seen. Those numbers may or may not seem high, given that the U.S. murder rate is the highest of all developed countries with 2012 data showing 4.7 murders per 100,000, or 14,827. The reality is, not only are there more murders in the U.S. than other developed countries, but police-related deaths are also among the highest, if not the highest. For instance, in Germany there were eight officer-involved deaths in two years. With Germany’s population near 81 million, comparably, if the U.S. were the same size as Germany, we would only have experienced 32 such deaths in two years.
With paranoia over the militarization of law enforcement and the use of excessive force plus the underlying racial bias that continues to plague our society, it’s no wonder so much of Ferguson burned down to the ground. While we will never get Brown’s testimony and it seems there is no middle ground on the subject, to prevent such outrage in the future over questionable deaths by police, body cameras for law enforcement seem to be the most appropriate solution. These cameras not only serve to protect the public but also the police in a society so jaded about perceived ill-willed practices. And it’s not just a theory.
In 2012, in Rialto, California, police officers were fitted with body cameras; and in the course of one year, things changed dramatically: public complaints against officers dropped 88 percent and officers’ use of force decreased by 60 percent. It’s a bit troubling to think that these officers changed their behavior so drastically because the cameras made them accountable, but we can’t say for sure the cameras were the only reason for such a significant change. Either way, it seems both sides win. And our president understands the value.
On Monday, Dec. 1, President Obama proposed to Congress the funding of a law enforcement body camera program nationwide, asking for $263 million. These funds would be matched with state funds to implement the program. Locally, the Ventura Police Department has already implemented a pilot program using body cameras; Oxnard Police Department is working on implementing the use of such equipment as part of the settlement of the police shooting of an innocent bystander in a standoff in 2012; and the Sheriff’s Department is currently researching the pros and cons of using them and which equipment would be best. While it’s great there is some movement on this issue, body cameras serve as the only reasonable witness when it comes to such fatalities and we feel they are a must. We stand by our president on this issue and encourage you to contact your state and U.S. representatives and show support for this essential funding to ensure not only the public’s safety, but also to remove doubt in questionable circumstances and preserve the reputations of those sworn to serve and protect.