Why all Detroit police officers are getting body cameras

Detroit joins the nearly 40 police departments in Michigan alone that either have body cameras or are looking into using them.

(Robin Buckson/The Detroit News/AP)
Michigan State Police Lt. Julie Busch looking at maps with team leaders last week as they figure out the routes for different teams to hand out light bulbs and crime prevention literature for a joint effort, called Light Up the City, between the Michigan State Police, the city of Inkster, and the Ministerial Alliance to bring attention to crime and get light bulbs to residents to light up their porches.

Falling in line with a rising number of law enforcement agencies around the country, the city of Detroit announced Tuesday a plan to equip all its police officers and squad cars with cameras, The Detroit News reports.

The program for in-car dash cameras will roll out within the next 12 months, according to The Detroit News. Officers will be outfitted with body cameras over a three-year span.

Since last year’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., sparked a nationwide discussion of officer misconduct and escalated racial tensions to new heights, more and more police departments have agreed to record their interactions with suspects.

In Michigan alone, 39 police departments are either using body cameras or looking into using them, according to the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

But because integrating the technology is lengthy and expensive – often costing up to millions of dollars – many public agencies first undergo a pilot program.

In Detroit, 20 officers had already completed a three-month trial run of uploading recordings of their public interactions to a digital cloud, reported The Detroit Free Press. The systems they used had been donated.

“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,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at a news conference. “This fall, our officers will be testing an integrated dash cam product.”

Overall, the programs will cost about $3 million, Mayor Duggan said.

But reports suggest that buying the cameras may be less costly than they seem. This week's announcement comes just months after local news station WXYZ reported that police misconduct has cost the city tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements since 2008.

“Over a period of about 7 years, more than 300 people have been awarded judgments or settlements after alleging police misconduct, with payouts varying in size from $500 to more than $3 million,” said the investigation.

Some police departments already have handfuls of camera-equipped cars, but steep financial costs prevent them from rolling out programs supplying the entire fleet. Only 186 of Detroit police’s 409 squad cars currently have dash cameras, reported Reuters.

A growing emphasis on police surveillance was most recently demonstrated in Indianapolis, where just Monday night, Mayor Greg Ballard presented a budget request to start using body cameras.

Local civil rights advocates there have been demanding greater transparency after the shooting death last week of Andre Green, a black teenager who police say was caught carjacking, raised fresh questions over the amount of force that was used. While a few Indianapolis police cars have dashboard cameras, authorities have said none were on the scene.

“Our goal is to build a police department where all interactions between officers and citizens are recorded,” said Mayor Duggan. “Full transparency is the best way to build trust.”

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