Whether it's a police union rep or an activist who says their neighborhood is terrorized by the police, pretty much the safest opinion either side can have is that all cops should wear body cameras. Activists like the idea of cameras because they argue that the footage will bring more transparency to police shootings, and the police say that the technology will earn them the public's trust.
In Dallas, body cameras are being quickly embraced by local officials. Dallas Police Chief David Brown said this month that his department will purchase 200 body cameras that should begin recording early next year. His announcement came just as state Senator Royce West introduced a bill requiring all police departments in Texas to purchase body cameras.
Even Ron Pinkston, the Dallas Police Association president who always comes out with a statement supporting the cops whenever an unarmed person ends up getting shot with police bullets, has publicly supported body cams. "What's the public's trust worth?" he said when asked about the cost of body cameras in August.
But if Dallas police think body cameras are so great, why can't we see the footage from the first controversial shooting caught on one?
In June, Dallas police shot and killed a mentally ill man named Jason Harrison after his mother called them for help. He had a screwdriver that police said he held in an aggressive manner. Neighbors we interviewed shortly after the shooting said they heard three gunshots and questioned why killing Harrison was necessary. Harrison's family members are now suing.
It's become a familiar story in Dallas, but this one had a twist: It was the first fatal DPD police shooting ever captured on a body camera. Naturally, reporters and Harrison's family have asked to see that footage. None of us have it yet.
It's typical for police to hold off on releasing evidence while an investigation is still ongoing, as is the case here. "As I told the DMN, I don't anticipate that the video footage will be released until the completion of the investigation. I don't have an estimate on when that might be," said Major Max Geron in an email from July.
Yet the ongoing investigation hasn't stopped Chief Brown from describing what's in the footage to the public. During a police-sponsored town hall meeting in September attended by the News, the audience reportedly "pressed for updates" on the officers who fatally shot Harrison."In both cases, Brown said body camera footage was consistent with the statements the officers made and they were back on regular duty after serving five days of administrative leave," the paper reported. Harrison's brother, who was at the meeting, said he also remembers Brown telling the audience that the video was consistent with the officers' accounts.
The footage hasn't been released even to Harrison's family. Police argue that doing so would taint the grand jury proceedings. Without it though, we're being asked to believe that the proceedings won't be "tainted" by the chief's announcement that the officers were in the right. It's apparently easy for cops to say they support body cameras, but the real test of their support is if the rest of us ever get to see the footage.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.