D.C. police officers to wear body cameras

Media Credit: Olivia Harding | Hatchet Photographer

The Metropolitan Police Department will equip roughly 150 officers with body cameras to increase transparency in the department. Police behavior came into question nationally after the protests in Ferguson, MO. earlier this summer.

If students run into D.C. police officers next month, they might be on camera.

The Metropolitan Police Department rolled out a pilot program last week that will put body cameras on more than 150 officers. Police will wear five different camera models while on patrol starting Oct. 1 in an effort to increase transparency.

Officers will place the cameras on their lapels, in the center of their chests or on a pair of eyeglasses. The pilot program, which will last about six months, will cost D.C. about $1 million. MPD has about 4,000 employees, including both civilians and officers, and the police officers who wear the cameras will be volunteers.

The idea to equip police officers with body cameras gained national attention after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. in August. The incident prompted more than two weeks of protests after community members claimed the shooting was racially motivated. Witnesses have given conflicting reports of the incident, which is still under investigation.

The New York Police Department announced this month that it would roll out a pilot program for body cameras. The department will equip 60 officers with the technology, the New York Times reported. Members of the Baltimore City Council also presented legislation last week that would require police officers to wear body cameras, according to the Baltimore Sun.

But GW police is not yet looking to follow its D.C. counterpart. University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said campus police have no plans to purchase lapel cameras. Other college police, like the department at California State University in Fullerton, have announced that their officers will begin wearing the cameras.

National campus safety expert S. Daniel Carter said while body cameras can provide evidence in cases when a suspect accuses police of mistreatment during an arrest, campus police departments may not be able to afford them.

“There’s no question there’s an expense to it in terms of prioritization,” Carter said. “For a smaller agency, it may not be something that could be easily funded.”

A body camera that’s worn on a police officer’s chest can cost around $400, according to Taser, a company that specializes in police equipment. A smaller camera that can clip to a pair of eyeglasses or a hat costs almost $600.

Ron Martinelli, a forensic criminologist and retired police officer from San Jose, Calif., said implementing the program on college campuses depends on the culture of the university.

“At UC Berkeley or Columbia, more radical universities where there is a lot of demonstrations, you want something,” he said. “If the student body is peaceful, if it’s a quiet college, that doesn’t justify putting out lapel cameras.”

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