Tablet Opinion

On body cams, FW is ahead of national trend

Earlier this year, in what was at least partly a response to the May 2013 police shooting death of a Woodhaven resident at home, the Fort Worth City Council approved the purchase of 400 additional body cameras for local police.

That acquisition put Fort Worth at the forefront of a national trend to outfit more officers with such devices.

With 600 Axon Flex body cameras, Fort Worth has the second-most of any police force in the nation.

It also places the city well ahead of this week’s request by President Barack Obama that Congress allocate $75 million to help supply police departments around the nation with as many as 50,000 body cameras.

The president made his appeal in reaction to the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by a police officer, and the ensuing national debate about the sometimes troubled relationship between police departments and minority communities.

Advocates of body cameras say they protect the interests of police and civilians by increasing transparency of police-civilian encounters.

A frequently cited example of a well-executed body camera program is from the community of Rialto, Calif.

The city of 100,000 piloted a camera program in 2012 and saw dramatic and immediate reductions in complaints against officers and increased trust between the community and law enforcement.

In Fort Worth, it’s too early to call the program a success.

We may not fully appreciate its value until footage is used to mediate an incident in dispute.

Generally, there is widespread support on both sides of the political aisle for making cameras a regular fixture on police uniforms.

But there are significant questions, too, about the protocols that should accompany camera use. Under what circumstances must cameras be turned on? What happens in the event of “missing” footage? How long should videos be retained and who should have access to them?

There are no easy solutions to the social problems that contributed to Brown’s death.

Addressing deep-seated mistrust as well as the larger cultural problems that plague minority and low-income communities more generally, will require a comprehensive approach.

Cameras are just one piece of the puzzle.