DENVER — Rep. Daniel Kagan, a south Denver Cherry Hills Democrat, feels the need to respond to tragic national and local high-profile stories on the increasingly tense relationship between law enforcement and the public. He is introducing a bill that would expand the use of officer body cameras as news breaks today that police were shot in an ambush in Ferguson, Missouri, where a policeman this past August shot an unarmed teen dead and set the town alight with protest that echoed around the country. Kagan thinks a rolling video record of interactions is a good way to cool tensions in Colorado. Research says he’s right. But body-cams only work if you turn them on. As Independent columnist Mike Littwin put it recently, riffing on news that Denver police had reportedly failed to run their body-cams for significant percentages of the time spent on their beats: “They’re the only people in the country not into selfies.” The Independent ran down Kagan this week at the Capitol.
This bill is one of nine introduced this legislative session aimed at reforming policing practices in Colorado. That seems like a lot…
What we’re trying to do is rebuild the trust that has always existed in Colorado between the public and law enforcement. It’s at risk and we want to make sure we don’t slide into a situation where the public doesn’t trust the police and the police treat all members of the public like miscreants.
What part do body cameras play?
Well, body cams have been shown to improve the behavior of both police and the public — if they’re used properly. We think that if there’s more wide-spread use of body cams we’ll stifle frivolous, unfounded claims of abuse, because people will know they can’t make up wild stories about what was done to them if it’s on record. Body cams are also an inhibiting factor in police overstepping the line. Their use will provide more accountability to both the public and the police in a constructive way.
There’s a lot of discussion about policing and cameras at the Capitol. Lawmakers are discussing redlight cameras, a perennial favorite topic. Do redlight cameras violate due process, and so on. Law enforcement pointed out that they use those cameras to solve other kinds of crime and also that they seem to be the only cameras people don’t want used… Are all police cameras created equal? Is there something about body cams in particular that makes them particularly effective?
Body-cams can play a very important role, but only if they’re implemented with full consideration of privacy concerns — concerns about protecting investigative efforts, police concerns about when they will be used and when they won’t. There are lots of wrinkles in any body-cam policy that can make them either a success or a failure. The devil’s in the details and we have to get those right. That’s why my bill is going to thoroughly explore the best practices — how we can best preserve people’s privacy, how we best contribute to public peace and safety, and only roll out a more widespread use of these cameras when we’ve thoroughly discussed these details. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.
How has has the response from law enforcement been so far?
Quite supportive… quite supportive — because we have some of the best law enforcement personnel of any state in the union. They’re really dedicated to making sure that trust between themselves and the public is maintained and encouraged. They’ve been very willing to work with us toward that objective.
[Lapel camera image via WikiCommons. ]