Body cameras are in, but naming shooters may be out for police
There’s are two things happening right within and without the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD), and both of them have big implications for police-community relations.
The PPD is rolling out its body camera program
In March, Mayor Michael Nutter supported equipping at least 450 police officers with body cameras at the cost of $500,000 by the end of the year. SEPTA transit and 22nd District police officers have been taking part in a pilot program, whose results can finally be glimpsed in this detailed Daily News story.
Body cameras have been overwhelmingly approved by both sides as a great tool. They protect the public from bad cops, keep marginal ones in line, and equally significant, as SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel told the Daily News, “they make good cops great cops.” But there are civil liberties concerns as well. At what point will the colossal cache of police-public interaction footage become a threat to privacy? At what point is recording too much?
There’s still a lot of kinks to iron out, for sure. But as the story shows, it’s one step in the right direction for improving Philadelphia’s police-community relations.
New legislation would protect names of officers in officer-involved shootings
Newly minted State Rep. Martina White (R ) has introduced legislation that would, according to the Daily News, “prevent the release of officers' names and identifying information — except in cases where they are charged with a crime as a result of the shooting.”
This comes months after PPD Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced that he would immediately begin naming any officer involved in a shooting. At the time, watchdog groups and activists counted as a major win. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), however, was incensed.
Naturally, the FOP has thrown their support to State Rep. White’s new bill, which would override Ramsey’s memorandum. An FOP secretary told the Daily News that Ramsey’s proposal puts officers in jeopardy, because “anybody can Google names.”
But in his original memo, Ramsey had specified that the PPD won’t release any information that could put somebody’s life in danger. The department’s condition was that "no threats are made toward the officer or members of their family prior to the release of this information.”
There’s little argument that body cameras aren’t protecting both sides of the equation. And with the exception of recording on private property, there are few legal privacy concerns about officers recording their public interactions . Still, it remains to be seen how well the department will handle rolling out the new technology in the large scale. Some commentators are already concerned about police officers being able to “edit” their own footage at the end of a shift before filing it on the department server.
White’s bill, on the other hand, could be a wedge in police-community relations.
On Tuesday evening, a group of protesters interrupted Commissioner Ramsey during a speech at Eastern State Penitentiary. Some two dozen people, organized by the Philadelphia Coalition of REAL Justice (PCRJ), came to protest the controversial shooting of Brandon Tate Brown by Philadelphia Police officers last year.
“We needed to shut this down, we needed to demand, not ask at this point and time, Police Commissioner Ramsey to arrest and take off the street the officers who murdered Brandon Tate Brown last year,” Asa Khalif, a member of PCRJ, told CBS.
It took the PPD six months to finally release the names of the two officers involved, despite a long internal investigation, ongoing public outcry, and even contradictions in the initial reports of the shooting.