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DC Police Sending Body Cameras To Mostly Black Neighborhoods

After a long battle with the city council over funding, The Metropolitan Police Department is now going ahead with its plan to issue body cameras to officers throughout the city.

Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in an email that the department will start by deploying 400 cameras to the fifth and seventh police districts. Those districts, she said, were chosen “because they each have a very high number of citizen contacts with police.”

Those police districts are also almost entirely populated by black people, according to Census data and illustrated by this map produced by The Washington Post.

All the neighborhoods contained in the fifth and seventh police districts have black populations above 80 percent, with most over 90 percent, according to the census data.

Neither of the two police districts, though, led the city in terms of total crime in the past year, according to data from the police department website. In fact, the seventh district ranked dead last and saw about 25 percent less crime than the next lowest district.

The fifth district ranked third in number of crimes committed, behind the second and third districts, which are home to many of the more popular nightlife destinations in the city.

In the past year, each district saw the following number of crimes committed:

Third District – 6,292
Second District – 5,691
Fifth District – 5,654
Fourth District – 5,567
First District – 5,549
Sixth District – 5,123
Seventh District – 3,829

In the letter, Lanier said the end goal is for every patrol officer, and some other officers with frequent contact with citizens, to wear a camera.

“This will happen in phases,” she wrote. “For this next phase, we have 400 cameras to deploy.”

Lanier said the rest of the districts should have body cameras by September 2016.

The new cameras are the second phase of a pilot program that started in October, which put body cameras on 200 police officers across the city. Those old cameras will be pulled back, and starting June 29, the new cameras will take their place.

The slow roll out comes after city council cut funding for the program by nearly two-thirds, amid privacy and logistical concerns.

The original plan put forth by Mayor Muriel Bowser called for 2,400 new cameras, enough to outfit every officer in the city with one, but the final budget plan passed by city council calls for just 1,200.

The cuts came after council members raised concerns over who would have access to the video. Bowser wanted to exempt the footage from public access through Freedom of Information Act requests, arguing that it would be too costly and burdensome to redact all of the videos.

City council, along with members of the public, didn’t agree and said this blanket exemption would defeat the purpose of the cameras, eventually removing the exemption from the final budget bill approved by the council.

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