“Be careful what you ask for.”
When I heard these words spoken by Lima City Council President John Nixon, in response to the outcry from the community concerning equipping Lima Police Department officers with body cameras, I was taken aback.
The premise of this sentence is used to tell people to think before they say that they want something and to suggest that they may not actually want what they have asked for.
For the last couple of years, this country has been involved in a national conversation about police/community relations and where body cameras fit in the dialogue.
It was more than two years ago that the Lima Area Black Ministerial Alliance stood in Lima’s Town Square, along with hundreds of resident, calling for these devices of accountability. During our subsequent conversations, we wanted to make it clear that this accountability would not only apply to officer but to citizens as well. Therefore, we knew very well what we were asking for.
This community is not under any illusion, and we are aware that there are those who falsely accuse law enforcement of wrongdoing. However, we are equally aware that there are officers who are a disgrace to the badge they wear. Unfortunately, in cases of dispute, the benefit of the doubt oftentimes goes to the officer. Cameras can help bridge deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public.
And, despite early resistance to the use of body cameras worn by officers, research demonstrates that the cameras have led to increased officer safety and accountability and reduced agency liability. When officers wear body cameras, research shows there are 88 percent fewer incidents of use of force and 59 percent fewer complaints against officers. And according to reports for the U.S. Department of Justice, there’s also evidence that both police and civilians behave better when they know there are cameras around.
We do not believe body cameras will serve as a cure-all. As a community, we must continue to identify ways to improve fractured police and community relations. In the eyes of the court, body cameras are not meant to function “just like an officer’s notes” but as a “contemporaneous, objective record of stops and frisks” that would allow courts and police supervisors to review officers’ behavior. Body cameras can’t tell the whole story of an interaction between a police officer and a civilian. But they can provide an independent narrative.
We believe that with proper policy and oversight, body cameras can bring new transparency and accountability to policing. To that end, we hope that the use of body cameras will help improve public trust, and increase police and community accountability and transparency.
Here’s what one police chief had to say about body cameras:
“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better. And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better,” said William A. Farrar, chief of police for the Rialto (California) Police Department.
In closing, there are no easy answers to help ease tensions between communities and law enforcement. Technology can play a role in building additional trust and accountability, but it’s not a panacea.
We must continue to elevate our conversation and find ways rebuild trust. This will be a long road for both police departments and the communities, and I would like to thank Mayor David Berger and his staff, Chief Kevin Martin and LPD, Lima City Council, local citizens and the Ministerial Alliance for working together to put us on that path.
I’d like to believe that we have the same end goal: Continue to keep Lima as a safe place to live.
B. Lamont Monford Sr. was born and raised in Lima. He is the senior pastor of Philippian Missionary Baptist Church. He is a graduate of American Baptist College, Nashville, Tenn., and a graduate of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, Findlay, where he received his master’s of divinity degree and his doctorate of ministry degree. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.