D.C. police to test body cameras in six-month pilot program

On October 1, the District’s Metropolitan Police Department is set to launch a six-month pilot program that will issue body-mounted cameras to a test group of police officers.

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has been considering the usage of body cameras in the MPD for the past 18 months. Although this pilot program has reportedly been a major work in progress for over a year, it just recently garnered enormous attention after the fatal shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9.

The aftermath of this tragedy has sparked reflective dialogue and public discussion all across the country—including one right here at Georgetown—on the implications of race, police brutality, and the usage of military equipment. Many advocacy groups, along with the D.C. Office of Police Complaints, support the implementation of these body cameras with the hope that it will improve police accountability. It would, ideally, also help resolve controversial cases, like the Brown shooting.

According to the Washington Times, the MPD has received at least 250 cameras so far for the upcoming test program. MPD Director of Communications Gwendolyn Crump confirmed that these cameras have not yet been deployed.

The New York Police Department started its own camera test program this Thursday with 60 officers. A federal judge demanded that the agency begin utilizing cameras to address concerns over racial profiling during police stops, although officials there claimed these actions were made independently of this ruling. The Los Angeles Police Department is also conducting similar tests with two types of cameras, but a final decision has yet to be reached about broadening the program.

One of the main issues to be resolved before the D.C. pilot program is enacted is when exactly officers would be required to turn on the cameras. It remains unclear whether the cameras will be on during all interactions with the public, or only in circumstances that are deemed contentious. A balance will have to be made between addressing privacy concerns and understanding that even seemingly routine interactions can escalate quite rapidly.

Video: NewsChannel8 via Shockwave

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