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DC Council Spars Again Over Police Body Cameras

Sparks flew once again around the District of Columbia mayor’s plan to outfit all officers on the city’s police force with body cameras, this time at a council budget meeting.

At the first full meeting of the council since members broke off into committees last month to mark up the mayor’s proposed budget, the council split fairly evenly on one councilman’s attempt to block key components in the mayor’s plan.

In his revision of the mayor’s budget, Councilman Kenyan McDuffie cut funding for the program by nearly two-thirds, reducing the number of new body cameras from 2,400 to 1,200.

In October, the Metropolitan Police Department launched a pilot program for the body cameras which put body cameras on just under 200 police officers. During that time McDuffie said there was a missed opportunity to collect valuable data on the use of cameras.

Essentially, there was an eight month body camera program where there was no data collected, he said, so the council doesn’t know if it reduced police complaints, reduced the use of force or increased safety.

“What we do know is they spent that amount of time deciding what type of camera they want to use,” McDuffie said.

Councilmember Yvette Alexander came back at McDuffie, though, and said recent events of alleged police misconduct outweigh the need for a solid program implementation.

“In my view the pilot program was Ferguson, Baltimore, and the man in Charleston,” Alexander said. “For me that was the pilot program.”

The program would be a protection for police, as well as residents, Alexander said. She recalled a police officer she knew personally who lost his job and said having a body camera would have changed his fate, but also that she knows young black men in her district who say the police are harassing them.

“Isn’t it more important to get the cameras and then let’s work out the issues later,” she said.

McDuffie, however, said the police haven’t implemented a program for the cameras they currently have, so it would be a bad idea to give them 2,000 more. The money could be better spent elsewhere, he said, instead of having these cameras “sit on the shelf.”

Councilmember Elissa Silverman echoed this sentiment, and said since the kinks weren’t worked out during the pilot program, it just speaks to the fact that they need to slow down with the roll out.

Councilman Jack Evans was concerned that if the district doesn’t get the cameras soon, it could miss out on a federal program that seeks to purchase 50,000 body cameras for law enforcement agencies across the country.

He said a lot of cities and states are already lining up to get the cameras and if D.C. doesn’t follow suit, it could cause delays in getting the cameras.

McDuffie wasn’t buying it, though.

“If you don’t believe that, in this capitalist society we live in, investors have some money they can dump in to producing these cameras to fill orders, then I’ve got a bridge that I can to sell somebody,” he said.

The Council is set to vote on its amended budget and will vote on a revised version next Wednesday.

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