Washington DC Dec 17 2016 More than two years after D.C. piloted a program to equip officers with body-worn cameras, the entire Metropolitan Police Department force is now outfitted with the devices. That means D.C. is leading the nation with the most number of police body-worn cameras deployed, according to Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Bowser said in a release today that the deployment of more than 2,600 body-worn cameras to MPD officers “underscores our commitment to transparency and accountability in police-resident engagements.” She also received a demonstration on how to use the devices from officers at the First District Station.
The cameras, which are a $5 million investment, first came to the District in October 2014. Former police Chief Cathy Lanier began a pilot program under then-Mayor Vincent Gray, where 165 officers tested out five different kinds of cameras over a six-month period. The impetus of the program was a number of complaints alleging police misconduct.
After some back and forth between Bowser and members of the council over whether the public should be able to view the recordings, the council passed the “Body-Worn Camera Program Amendment Act of 2015” last December, and Mayor Bowser signed it two weeks later. At the time, 400 officers had the devices.
The bill allows anyone who is the subject of a video, and those alleging officer misconduct, to view footage pertaining to their cases. Most recordings taken in public space (exceptions include cases of domestic violence) will also be accessible to members of the public who file a FOIA request. In addition, the mayor can release "otherwise undisclosed" footage of officer-involved shootings, use of force by an officer, and assaults that put officers in the hospital.
On the day the bill was passed, Mayor Bowser released D.C.’s first publicly viewed body-worn camera footage in a case involving the death of Alonzo Smith. MPD officers found Smith unconscious and handcuffed in the custody of special police at an apartment complex in Southeast. The footage showed the next nine minutes of the encounter, in which police officers go to get additional restraints, call an ambulance, and administer CPR to Smith, who was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
In July, MPD released footage from the scene of the fatal police-involved shooting of 63-year-old Sherman Evans. In the video, officers arrived outside of an apartment complex near Catholic University to find Evans with a weapon in his hand. For several minutes, officers ask him to drop his weapon. As one of the officers captures the incident on his body-worn camera, he moves behind a car in an apparent attempt to shield himself. The camera is aimed away from Evans during this time, and a few seconds later, the sound of several gun shots are heard. Afterward, officers run toward Evans and put him in handcuffs. An unconscious Evans is then turned over as police try to revive him.
One of the officers is heard telling someone that they shot Evans because he raised his gun at them, though the video does not show this. He was taken to a hospital where he died. Police say they later found a BB gun, which belonged to Evans, at the scene.
And in September—after weeks of tension, protests, and conflicting accounts—the District released footage from the camera of Brian Trainer, a four-year MPD veteran, who fatally shot motorcyclist Terrence Sterling in Mount Vernon Square.
Trainer did not turn on his camera before interacting with Sterling, so the graphic video showed the aftermath: a bloody scene where 31-year-old Sterling laid on the ground, fighting for his life. The D.C. Chapter of the ACLU said in a statement that, while the body-worn camera program is intended to promote accountability and transparency, "in the case of Mr. Sterling's death, we have neither."
Four days after Sterling’s shooting, Mayor Bowser announced policy changes that require dispatchers to remind officers to turn on their cameras before encountering a member of the public. In return, officers must confirm that they have done so. There were about 10 instances in all where officers forgot to activate the "new technology," Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham said at the time.
Newsham said today that the cameras will improve police services, increase accountability for individual interactions, and strengthen police-community relations.