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Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Eastern Michigan University Police Departments to Begin Use of Body Cameras

December 8, 2014 Criminal Law and Procedure

The Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Eastern Michigan University Police Departments have both announced that their officers will begin using body cameras.

The announcement comes soon after the Washtenaw County Sheriff Department stated that its deputies will begin using body cameras.

Body cameras have become a hot topic of conversation following a grand jury decision to not indict a police officer in the shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The Michael Brown shooting produced conflicting eye witness accounts of what actually happened.

The hope is that body cameras will eliminate “he said-she said” type situations and introduce an objective way to evaluate police-civilian encounters that have gone wrong.

Body cameras, however, do not always produce the solid evidence that is hoped for.

Nation-wide protests followed a New York grand jury decision to not indict a police officer who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed man who was accused of selling individual cigarettes. The police officer can be seen on tape applying a choke hold to Mr. Garner, who then lay on on the ground with police officers on his back and gasped, “I can’t breathe.”

And of course there was the Rodney King case. A jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of assault and failed to reach a verdict on the use of excessive force after a video showed the officers repeatedly striking Mr. King with batons while other officers stood by and watched. Two of the officers were later imprisoned though after being convicted in federal court of civil rights violations.

Another problem with body cameras is that the technology is subject to police officer control. A police officer turned off his body camera in Albuquerque before he shot and killed a woman. The officer was fired when it was found that failed to comply with police department requirements of recording every civilian interaction. A police officer in Dayton, Ohio, resigned after it was found that he turned off his body camera at crucial times in civilian encounters.

Nevertheless, it would seem that body cameras have the promise to bring transparency and clarity to police-civilian interactions. Officers who are being recorded know they may have to stand by their actions in court later, so cameras provide a valuable incentive for officers to perform their job by-the-book.

Many police departments in Michigan already have dashboard cameras mounted in patrol vehicles.

The Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and EMU police departments as well as the Sheriff’s Department plan to begin the use of body cameras in 2015.

Contact ArborYpsi Law at 734-883-9584or at bernstein@arborypsilaw.com to speak with attorney Sam Bernstein.