The United States Justice Department awarded Washington, D.C., $1 million to expand its Body Worn Cameras program for Metropolitan Police Department officers Sept. 21, which will require that the city establish an implementation plan and training policy for cameras, as a response to police violence nationwide.
The additional funding, combined with the money allocated to the program in the mayor’s budget, will be enough to provide for 2,800 cameras. Currently, officers who have daily interaction with community members in the fifth and seventh police districts use 400 body-worn cameras, which were purchased prior to this grant. There are more than 4,000 officers total in the department.
“Body-worn cameras increase accountability, improve police services and strengthen policy-community relations,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a press release announcing the grant Sept. 25. “This grant sends a strong message that we are on the right track.”
In total, the Justice Department awarded 73 grants worth $23 million to cities nationwide to expand the usage of body-worn cameras and explore their potential
impacts on these communities. D.C., along with Los Angeles, Detroit, Miami, Chicago and San Antonio, received the highest dollar amount among recipients.
“The impact of body-worn cameras touches on a range of outcomes,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a press release announcing the department’s awards. “[These] build upon efforts to mend the fabric of trust, respect and common purpose that all communities need to thrive.”
Bowser’s Senior Communications Officer LaToya Foster said that while the grant will not be able to fully fund the body-worn camera program in D.C., it is still a significant contribution.
Foster maintained that Bowser’s main goal for the program is to increase police accountability and strengthen relations between citizens and police within the D.C. community.
“As part of the mayor’s supplemental budget, she proposed to the Council to pass the additional funding to implement the body-worn camera program,” Foster said. “It’s increasing accountability, strengthening relations and improving services for our MPD officers, so it’s a win-win all around.”
Foster said that while there are other methods of accountability in the police force to prevent abuse of police power, body-worn cameras constitute a logical step in ensuring adherence to laws.
“There are other programs that are implemented within MPD that increase accountability,” Foster said. “But body -worn cameras are definitely something that the mayor believes are necessary at this point in time.”
Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber said that a similar program would not be used by Georgetown’s police force in the near future. He said that the high cost of the program, as well as the complex procedures needed for accountability, have made the university hesitant to implement it for security personnel.
“All that planning has to take place ahead of time, has to be vetted through different groups on campus,” Gruber said. “It is not on our short term list of things we’re going to be doing here.”
In the context of MPD, Gruber also argued that cameras help increase accountability and protect the public from officers who are not using their powers properly. He added that cameras can be used as evidence to help find accused criminals innocent or guilty in a court of law.
“I think they’re an important tool that police officers use,” Gruber said. “[Cameras] become part of evidence that could be used in court and other administrative hearings to show what happened at the scene of [an] incident.”
Foster admitted that the mayor’s office has not yet finalized procedures for footage once it has been captured, which was one of Gruber’s concerns with the program. It is currently unknown how much video from each camera can be released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, but the mayor’s office is formulating a plan.
“While [cameras are] holding people accountable, the mayor wants to be sure privacy for those captured in the video and be cognizant of that as well,” Foster said. “That’s the part that’s been a little tricky.”
Gruber added that MPD is addressing improving police relations with citizens through alternate programs, including having officers participate in community-based programs, provide support to neighborhoods and better integrate into the communities they serve.
“I think there’s a lot of things [officers can do],” Gruber said. “I think that a lot of what the MPD does is very community-based and has the community’s best interests at heart.”
MPD communications declined requests for comment.
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