Expectations of police body cameras spark debate - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Expectations of police body cameras spark debate

The Hamilton County prosecutor has released body camera footage from the fatal shooting of Sam DuBose on July 19. (Source: WXIX) The Hamilton County prosecutor has released body camera footage from the fatal shooting of Sam DuBose on July 19. (Source: WXIX)
(WOIO) -

In the wake of the recent Cincinnati shooting, have people formed unrealistic expectations of what police body cameras can prove while reviewing use of force cases? Many studies have been conducted and found there is no simple answer.

Body cam video of the police shooting of Samuel DuBose resulted in murder charges against University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, but it also triggered a debate over exactly how much should be read into body cam videos. 

For example, a frame at the start of the video shows a parked car in the distance. By the time the confrontation ends, the car is much closer. Could it prove that the officer was actually dragged, as alleged earlier?

"We need to refrain from a rush to judgment. Things may not always be what they appear," said Alexis Artwohl, a police consultant on use of force.

"We know that one video camera from a particular perspective is very limited in its ability to see anything," said Bill Lewinski, who founded the Police Force Institute study group. 

The institute studied body cameras and concluded that many myths give people unreal expectations of what the cameras can prove. For example, in many cases, the camera is blocked by the officer’s hands and gun. Also, cameras may actually see better than the officer can in low light, so after-the-fact judgments are being made with a clearer view than what the officer saw at the time. 

There is no doubt cameras lead to second guessing. 

Cleveland Police Patrolmen Association President Steve Loomis has lobbied for dash cams rather than body cams.

"The cameras in the cars don't blink. They are on all the time. You have a very clear indication of what the officer's doing, and if they are off camera, you have a very good audio tape," explained Loomis. 

Body cams are a tool, but there are limitations. Consider this about body cameras: Important judgments are being made from a single point of view. At an NFL game, instant replay uses dozens of cameras, and even then, many plays continue to be debated after the call.

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