How Lawrence bill would improve police body camera use after Lyoya death

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — After the Grand Rapids police killing of Patrick Lyoya, Michigan U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence is introducing a bill to boost training for police departments to better monitor body-worn camera footage.

The legislation by the Southfield Democrat would create a pilot program to fund training for local law enforcement departments to cover personnel costs to review body-worn camera footage on a continuing basis to improve officer conduct and safety, according to a bill summary. 

Patrick Lyoya

The Officers Accountability Training and Honesty (OATH) Act aims to boost the monitoring of body-worn camera footage because many departments lack the staff resources to do so, according to Lawrence's office.

“While body-worn cameras are intended to be a tool for accountability, there have been too many instances where BWCs have been mishandled. And oftentimes, footage that is captured is reviewed only after an incident occurs," Lawrence said.

"This creates uncertainty and doubt in the effectiveness of BWCs and erodes the trust between our law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and protect. We’re seeing those feelings grow," especially after killing of Lyoya.

Lawrence, who serves as second vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke at Lyoya's funeral last week in Grand Rapids. 

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence speaks during the funeral of Patrick Lyoya.

Lyoya, 26, was killed during a traffic stop April 4 by Grand Rapids police officer Chris Schurr, whose body-worn camera was deactivated before he shot Lyoya in the back of the head during of a struggle over a stun gun.

Grand Rapids police Chief Eric Winstrom has said the body-worn camera deactivated during the incident because it was held down for three seconds as the two men struggled. It is not clear how the device was pressed down.

While the body camera didn't capture that fatal shot, Michigan State Police obtained video from a home surveillance system that did. Schurr's body camera was found in the mud, where it triggered back on but didn't capture any of the shooting.

The OATH Act is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Haley Stevens of Waterford Township, Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Earl Blumenaur of Oregon, Andre Carson of Indiana, Troy Carter of Louisiana, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey.

Staff writer Sarah Rahal contributed.