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EDITORIAL: Local police must use body cameras to uphold transparency in policing

Trust and accountability are the cornerstones of a thriving community.

That’s why transparency from government officials and local police departments is now more important than ever. It’s why Isabella County Sheriff Mike Main wants to implement the use of body cameras within his department as soon as possible.

We commend Sheriff Main for prioritizing the safety of his citizens and the integrity of his post by using technology to restore that vital trust. We also call on Mount Pleasant and Central Michigan University police to make body cameras a department priority.

Both CMUPD and MPPD officials said they do not believe body camera technology and regulations are reliable enough at present to serve their intended purpose. CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley said he wants to wait for regulatory legislation to catch up with body cam technology before he integrates them into his department. MPPD Public Information Officer Jeff Browne agreed, saying there’s more to using body cams in the field than affixing a camera and turning it on.

We disagree with their reasoning.

A body camera is the difference between trust and disdain when something goes wrong during the daily duties of police work. If these agencies hold transparency and accountability up as core values, they must mandate body camera use for all officers on patrol.

A body camera records the details of a routine traffic stop without prejudice, emotion or inherit bias. It captures raw footage and lays the facts out plainly for review after incidents like police shootings turn deadly.

At least 865 people were shot by police this year, according to The Guardian’s database of police-involved shootings. The Washington Post reported 991 police shootings in 2015. The data also shows that 209 of those incidents involved unarmed or potentially unarmed assailants who wound up dead.

According to the data, the killings are often justified as self-defense from officers who thought their lives were in danger.

In the aftermath, the validity of officer self-defense claims are often vigorously debated by family members and activists who believe racism and prejudice were motivating factors in instances of excessive force.

The debate often leads to more mistrust and violence. Activists opposing unnecessary police brutality say the use of body cameras can set the record straight when the details of police shootings rely solely on the testimony of the officer involved.

We agree with their assertion. Police have an obligation to report the full, unaltered details of a police shooting when family members demand answers.

Yeagley and Browne have a similar obligation. The premise of unreliable technology is a tired argument. Body cams are typically state-of-the-art, are reasonably inexpensive, and have a short lifespan requiring officers to repurchase cameras every 18 months.

The shelf life alone mandates departments to keep up with emerging technology.

If Main is willing to protect his standing in the community by implementing the use of body cameras, Yeagley and Browne must follow suit.

The strength of the American social contract depends on trust between neighbors to uphold collective values. We expect the same from our public servants, and local law enforcement in particular.