We'll never be able to pin down exactly what went down on Havenwood Lane on the night of May 4, when Fort Worth police mistakenly gunned down 72-year-old Jerry Waller at his home. Police say he was outside the garage; his family maintains that he was just a couple of steps from the kitchen door. The cops say he raised his weapon; the family finds that hard to believe.
It's a similar problem that's encountered on a smaller scale every time a person is searched under New York City's controversial -- and now barred -- stop-and-frisk policy: There's no record of what happened beyond what lingers in the memory of the participants.
Now, both cities are turning to the same solution: tiny, uniform-mounted cameras to better document the interactions between residents and police. New York is adopting the technology only reluctantly: The cameras are required under the same court order that ruled stop-and-frisk unconstitutional. Fort Worth, meanwhile, is doing so voluntarily and touting the move as a way to improve accountability.
"Every chief of police has a particular use of force incident that strained the public's trust and damaged their professional reputation," Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead said in a written statement to The Dallas Morning News. "This technology has the ability to document exactly what occurred, what was said, and has proven to clearly demonstrate the incident for the community."
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The department has already purchased nearly 200 cameras, the use of which Halstead will require during the execution of all search warrants. His eventual goal is to buy another 500 cameras over two years, which will outfit up to three-quarters of patrol officers and half of all specialized units, according to the Morning News. The price tag so far is $764,000.
Fort Worth is a relatively early adopter of uniform cams, but they are becoming increasingly ubiquitous, and they have a certain intuitive appeal. Civil liberties advocates tend to like them because they increase police accountability, while police departments -- some of them at least -- like the insurance they provide against claims of misconduct.
What little data there is seems to back up these inclinations. A study of police in Rialto, California, saw an 88 percent decline in the number of citizen complaints and a 60 percent drop in use-of-force incidents after officers were outfitted with cameras.
Matter of fact, it seems the only person who sees no redeeming virtue in the technology is NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He declared them a "nightmare."