An obvious debate over police body cameras, and a hope for funding

Posted at 10:49 PM, Dec 04, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-05 00:06:34-05

The chance that you’re caught on camera today is far greater than just 10 years ago: smart phones make it easy to upload video for the world to see.

Sometimes what we see stirs up heated debate, especially when it comes to law enforcement and the use of force.

On all the major news networks we’ve been seeing the same video, over and over: an NYPD officer using a chokehold on Eric Garner, a man police were trying to arrest  for allegedly selling bootleg cigarettes.

In a story aired Thursday, we showed dash-cam video of an officer shot in the face by a passenger in a car she had pulled over.

Closer to home, last year we aired cell-phone video of an incident at Richmond's Shamrock the Block, showing a man and city police fighting during the crowded downtown event. The charges were dropped.

fight with cops

In all three scenarios, you see video of an officer, or a suspect, or both, using force.

President Obama is now proposing a three-year, $263 million spending package to increase police use of body-worn cameras.

"It shouldn't have to come to this, but it's a good idea," said Kevin Watson, who was eating a burger at the Ettrick Deli Thursday.

But not everyone agrees with that approach.

"More people would be alive if they would simply obey police requests," said David VonBock, while he waited for his order. And of course, a camera could record an incident like the death of Eric Garner, which was ruled a homicide by the coroner, but it may not change the outcome of a grand jury.

The American Civil Liberties Union calls body cameras for all police, a win-win.  "This is not a silver bullet, but there are studies that show it decreases officers’ use-of-force incidents and also reduces complaints from citizens," said Frank Knaack, the director of public policy at the American Civil Liberties Union.

On the menu at the Ettrick Deli, there was plenty of opinion to go along with the usual sides.

"Audio and video is what society wants to see," said Officer Willie Richards, who wore a body camera when he patrolled the streets in Waverly.  "We had no access to edit or delete anything."

And although Waverly’s a tiny town, he says the cameras were worth every penny of the hundreds of dollars they cost.  "I think it helped a lot of officers in a good way and it helped supervisors when it came to investigating the officers," said Richards.

President Obama’s plan calls for $75 million to help pay for small, lapel cameras with state and local governments footing the bill for the rest.

That’s something for taxpayers to chew on.