Detroit has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country, even though that rate has decreased over the past few years. Still, with interactions between police officers and citizens commonplace, it’s good news the Detroit Police Department is moving forward with a plan to put body cameras on all officers.
The move makes Detroit a national leader in police accountability. Cameras should encourage better behavior from officers and citizens, reduce ambiguity in questionable encounters and provide more substantial evidence in the case of a dispute.
The decision is also innovative, as Detroit is pioneering a system that integrates cameras worn on officers’ bodies with in-car dashboard cameras, rather than keeping them separate. The suggestion to store all information on a single system came from officers who gave the cameras a test run. Officers from Detroit’s 11th precinct wore cameras on duty for a 90-day trial period.
Mayor Mike Duggan and Police Chief James Craig said at a press conference that increased transparency will improve relationships between officers and the community.
Cameras protect the rights of suspects and victims by minimizing the he-said, she-said nature of complaints. In California, Oakland, San Diego and Rialto have all experimented with body cameras. And in all three cities, use of force declined.
But just as important, cameras provide an additional layer of protection for police officers who follow correct procedures and comply with policies, but are falsely accused of wrongdoing.
“The officers have concluded that the technology works, and the city of Detroit is establishing as its goal to build a police department where every officer interaction is recorded,” Duggan said.
The obvious benefits of cameras must be balanced with concerns about the privacy of victims or bystanders who might be recorded. But the police department said it has followed best practices and developed a policy to address those concerns.
Citizens will be able to ask officers to turn off the cameras, but not without protocol. That’s the right call.
Criminal investigations often reveal sensitive information that victims might not want blasted publicly, and Freedom of Information Act requests should each be handled on an individual basis.
The dash cameras will cost about $350,000. Equipping officers and purchasing storage equipment will cost about $3 million, which will be paid for with the police budget and federal grants.
It’s a big step for Detroit, but an important investment for both citizens and the police.