The creaking sound you heard recently was the barn door being closed. Or, at least half of a barn door.
Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser said he would include funding for police body cameras for the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department officers in the 2021 budget when he presents it to the county board next month. Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said the city plans to by them for police officers—but not until 2022.
Both the city and the county have dawdled for several years over the implementation of body cams—endorsing them as a way of to increase police accountability and collect evidence—but balking at the high costs of implementation.
That has proven to be penny wise and pound foolish.
The shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer—seven times in the back as he tried to elude police and enter a car—was captured on a brief video clip by a neighbor. It quickly went viral, inflamed the community and led to riots, looting, the burning of businesses and two deaths.
There was no police video of the shooting because the police had no body cams. There was nothing to give a broader picture of the events leading up to the shooting—the initial encounter between Blake and the officers; any police directives given to Blake; the actions in the reported scuffle between Blake and police; the use of a taser or any video evidence of whether Blake was armed with a knife during that encounter.
Police body cam footage might well have provided some balance to the episode and a wider understanding of the actions of both the officers involved and Blake himself. Instead, all we had was a view of the end of the episode and the back-shooting—a highly inflammatory few seconds that resulted in Blake being paralyzed and protests and then riots that burned down several city blocks.
The costs are still being tabulated and they will run into the millions of dollars—a staggering bill that might have been sidestepped with a clearer vision of what happened that Sunday afternoon.
President Donald Trump, in his visit to the city, pledged $42 million to the state for public safety support, funding for additional prosecutors, direct aid to law enforcement and funding for small businesses damaged by protests. Gov. Tony Evers said the state would provide $1 million for disaster recovery microloans.
A good chunk of that money should go toward police body cams. More than half the police departments with 100 to 250 officers had already acquired them four years ago, and many more have added them since then. The foot-dragging must stop.
The technology is there. Use it. Police body cams will help provide a fuller picture of the interactions between law officers and the public. That transparency will increase police accountability—and citizen accountability as well.