Why was a Texas police officer charged with murder just two days after he shot and killed a woman in her home Oct. 12?
Because the body camera he was wearing showed what happened.
It’s another example of the value and need for this technology in more communities, including Madison.
“Nobody looked at this video and said that there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” Fort Worth interim Police Chief Ed Kraus told the Associated Press.
Officer Aaron Dean was jailed on a murder charge Oct. 14 after his uniform camera showed his alarming response to a non-emergency call about a neighbor’s front door being open after 2 a.m.
The officer in the video didn’t knock on the front screen door, which was closed, to find out if everyone was OK. Instead, as the video showed, the officer and another cop walked around the house with a flashlight and entered a door to a fenced-in backyard — never identifying themselves as police.
A figure appeared in a window of the house. “Put your hands up!” the officer shouted. “Show me your hands!” A moment later, he fired a bullet through the window, killing Atatiana Jefferson, 28, who had been playing video games with her nephew. Jefferson worked for a pharmaceutical company and was caring for her ailing mother, the AP reported. The front door was open to let in a breeze, according to her family.
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Police initially said the officer fired his gun after “perceiving a threat.” But the video quickly convinced the police chief and the public that the shooting was terribly wrong.
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Uniform cameras have held police accountable for bad behavior, including in Wisconsin. They also have exonerated officers. Chief Kraus in June cited video evidence to contend officers followed department policy after repeatedly ordering a man to drop his handgun before firing.
“I’m hoping that it shows that we’re trying to be transparent,” Kraus told the Dallas Morning News. “We’re trying to build the trust that we so desperately need to restore in this community.”
Sometimes the images from cop cameras show a complicated event from which people draw differing conclusions.
But what’s perfectly clear is that cameras offer far more transparency and information about controversial police encounters than not having the cameras.
Madison is falling behind other departments by refusing to adopt the technology. The City Council has repeatedly rejected a modest proposal to equip North Side patrol officers with cameras. The proposed city budget doesn’t include money for the devices.
One concern has been how and when video will be released to the public. But law enforcement officials, state lawmakers and the media are supporting a compromise bill to set reasonable guidelines.
Another concern is that police might turn cameras off to hide misconduct. But new technology allows cameras to automatically record video. Racine County is upgrading its cameras to activate whenever a deputy draws a weapon or flips on the emergency lights of a police car.
Testing body cameras in Madison would cost less — and provide more openness and accountability — than the $200,000 city leaders have budgeted for an independent police monitor.
As Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling says: “The camera doesn’t lie.”