Obama administration to spend $20M on body cameras

The Baltimore Sun
Obama administration to grant $20M to cities across the country to expand use of body cameras worn by police

The Obama administration will make $20 million available to cities across the country to expand the use of body cameras worn by police in an effort to improve trust with communities, the Justice Department said Friday.

The announcement, which follows an earlier proposal from the administration to invest $75 million in cameras over three years, comes as Baltimore is still reeling from the events surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal injury while in police custody.

Some advocates have called for a rapid deployment of the cameras following high-profile interactions with the police in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York and elsewhere. The cameras, supporters argue, offer evidence that can be beneficial to both suspects and the police.

"Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who sworn into the post this week,  said in a statement.

The Justice Department expects to award 50 competitive grants basis to local law enforcement for the cameras, about one-third of which will be directed to smaller agencies, the administration said. The grants will require cities to match the federal investment with local tax money.

The White House said in December it wanted the federal government to help local police purchase 50,000 new cameras over three years. President Barack Obama mentioned the issue, and the grant program, during a White House press conference on Tuesday.

"We are going to be issuing grants for those jurisdictions that are prepared to start trying to implement some of the new training and data collection and other things that can make a difference," Obama said. "And we're going to keep on working with those local jurisdictions so that they can begin to make the changes that are necessary."

A report issued in March by a White House appointed task force said that the cameras, while potentially helpful, are not a panacea. They raise questions about privacy, for instance, and also the infrastructure needed to retain a massive amount of video data that could be used as evidence.

"Now that agencies operate in a world in which anyone with a cell phone camera can record video footage of a police encounter, [the cameras] help police departments ensure that events are also captured from an officer’s perspective," the report said.

"But when the public does not believe its privacy is being protected by law enforcement, a breakdown in community trust can occur."

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