Everyone behaves better when police wear cameras — at least that was the experience in Rialto, Calif. Complaints against police and the use of force by police both declined after officers in the city of 100,000 were equipped with body cameras.
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $263 million to buy 50,000 body cameras for police, expand training and add more resources for reforming law enforcement. It's a modest plan that makes sense.
So does Obama's creation of a Task Force on 21st Century Policing to look at success stories and recommend ways to increase public trust in our local law enforcement.
The shooting by a white officer of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., would not have touched off such widespread protests and outrage if many Americans had not already experienced police bias, harassment or brutality firsthand.
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The militarization of policing also merits more scrutiny. Armored vehicles patrolling city streets and assault weapons trained on civilians are images we associate with police states and occupied territories. The militarized show of force in response to the initial protests in Ferguson only reinforced misgivings about that city's police and government.
Other examples of local police using military tactics in neighborhoods, especially in minority communities, are also troubling. A SWAT team in Habersham County, Ga. threw a flash-bang grenade into a playpen, injuring a toddler, while pursuing an alleged methamphetamine dealer who wasn't in the house. A grand jury recently cleared the officers.
Obama is not seeking to end the transfer of military equipment to police departments but is calling for better training and more consistent standards for its use.
Officers may initially resent the idea of wearing cameras, but the video record can protect them in disputes by providing a complete context, especially when a cell-phone camera captures just part of an encounter.
Indianapolis police announced Tuesday that they are beginning to test body cameras; Lexington should too.
Policing a free society inevitably produces conflicts; achieving the proper balance is critical to preserving that freedom. Most police are dedicated public servants willing to sacrifice for others. Biased or brutal policing by a few makes the job more dangerous for all.
We also must recognize that in a population as permeated with guns as ours, officers will suspect that many of the individuals they encounter are armed and react accordingly. Just one more reason to slow down the personal arms race.