Bremerton police latest to consider using body cameras

BREMERTON, Wash. -- Night after night, we've seen rioting and looting in Ferguson, Missouri. And there are still many unanswered questions following the shooting death of a black teen by a police officer. Which raises the issue - would using body cameras have made a difference in the fallout?

In the few seconds that transpired on Aug. 9 between 18-year-old shooting victim Michael Brown and Officer Darin Wilson, only the aftermath was caught on tape. Now, even the celebrity medical examiner hired by the Brown family says the teen could have been charging the officer - or raising his hands to surrender.

For the past several years a number of local police departments have tried using body-mounted cameras as a method of building community trust and increasing department transparency.

In Victoria, B.C. The department tried out the cameras several years ago. One officer told us, "it's going to be significant in terms of the evidence quality."

Poulsbo, Washington's 14-member department has been using them since last fall. Chief Al Townsend agrees the cameras provide more evidence for potential prosecution but says another benefit is clarity when there's questions about an officer's conduct. "I think the officers are excited about using them because it does help protect them as well," he said.

Bremerton police just finished a pilot program and is proposing a 2015 budget to outfit its 40 officer department starting the first of January.

"There's a number of benefits, one is transparency," says spokesman Lt. Pete Fisher. He adds they also build community trust. "If the citizens are able to see their officers routinely interacting in a professional manner with the people on the street they have more trust in their police officers."

But referring to the Ferguson shooting, Fisher adds body cameras can't answer every question and building community trust has to start before a major incident occurs.

Our region's largest department, Seattle Police, planned to start its own body cam pilot program July 1 but because of privacy and policy concerns over when the cameras will be turned on - and off - Seattle's program is on hold - indefinitely.

The ACLU thinks body cameras can be valuable tools for police accountability but it wants Seattle to require officers to keep the cameras turned on during all interactions with the public and not allow officers to turn them off whenever they want.

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