Police cameras: a need or a want?

Dennis Warden

In today’s society body cameras, or dash cams for the police have almost become a necessity. A quick search online for the phrase “video footage clears police” brings up over 1.7 million hits.

Sadly, there are those who do not respect our police and what they do. More and more these same people try to turn a simple traffic stop into an excuse to charge the police with misconduct.

At the end of May a Texas woman falsely accused a Texas state trooper of sexually assaulting her during a traffic stop. This is the latest of several in the last two years alone in which video footage was critical in clearing a police officer of alleged wrongdoing.

To make matters worse a social activist and national columnist picked up the story and amplified it saying (not accusing) the trooper had committed rape.

In April a South Carolina NAACP chapter president said he was racially profiled during a traffic stop. On Facebook, the driver claimed the officer accused him of having drugs in his car and that he was repeatedly asked why he was driving in this nice neighborhood. This driver was also a pastor giving him more credibility. 

Unfortunately for him the officer had a body camera. After the release of the video the Facebook posts were quickly deleted.

The Dean of Journalism at the University Of North Texas near Dallas was stopped by police in late 2015 as she was jogging in her neighborhood. She claimed later in a Dallas Morning News column that she was the victim of profiling, and that the police stopped her for being black in an affluent neighborhood. 

Once again the dash cam told a different story. The two officers had politely asked her to jog on the correct side of the street for her own safety.

It has even happened in Missouri to a member of the press. A columnist from the Columbia Tribune in June of last year told his readers that he felt his life was in danger and that the officers who pulled him over were “arrogant” with him when he was pulled over by two Boone County Sheriff deputies. A quick review of the dash cam and audio recording showed the officers were polite and did everything by the book. The columnist lost his job.

In all fairness, cameras are just as good at helping police rid their departments of a bad cop who takes advantage of his or her authority.

The bottom line, with a camera it is no longer your word against the officer’s. Right or wrong the evidence is recorded for everyone to see.

The question then is, with more and more events of our lives being recorded by security cameras, police cameras or even someone’s cell phone why would anyone think it’s a good idea to accuse the police of misconduct?

To put a stop to this those making false accusations need to be charged. This is a crime and unless the accuser pays for the wrongdoing, except for the embarrassment, it will continue.

In our area a few departments currently have body cameras. They can be found on police in Owensville, Gerald, Union and Washington. 

Franklin County Sheriff’s and Gasconade County Sheriff’s Departments are both working to have body cameras in the future. 

The Maries County Sheriff’s department is one step ahead. They currently use dash cams.

Belle Police Department has mentioned it at city meetings that they would also like body cameras. The council has agreed that they would support that endeavor, especially if they could save up for them or receive grants.

At this time the Vienna PD does not have any car or body cameras. Chief Thompson said they have discussed it, but don’t have the budget for it. “We have to deal with needs first and not wants,” he said. He has two cars and five officers working with Vienna PD and has priced body cameras from about $8,000 to $12,000 depending on the vendor.

In a way a body or dash camera can become the officer’s legal ‘body armor’ against false accusations.

If you think about it, as a general rule of thumb, people tend to behave better when they know they’re being watched. This rule works both ways, for the police officer and the accused.

The next time you are pulled over just remember to smile, do what the officer says and everything will work out fine. If it doesn’t chances are everything was recorded and you could end up on the news.

(To access the stories referenced in this column see: