Accountability and transparency go a long way when it comes to the police.
In other states, we’ve seen the consequences when those are absent. A barrier grows between police and the communities they serve.
In the wake of this increased scrutiny, more and more departments across the nation have started using body cameras. The use of the cameras can foster trust between citizens and officers. With them, there is an impartial observer that can show everyone what really happened. That fosters trust. And that trust is essential to the success of local police departments, and to the safety of both officers and citizens.
Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters has requested funding for body cameras as part of a larger effort to improve the department he now leads. The goal is for every officer to be equipped with a wearable camera by summer.
And we think this is a laudable measure. Because McPheeters is right that there is a need for recordings of police interactions with citizens. This increased scrutiny should be met with transparency.
And the advantages of body cameras are two-fold.
First, if police officers are equipped with body cameras, the bad apples among them may be more likely to act properly because they will be held accountable for their actions. And though we don’t think police are typically inclined to act unethically or use unnecessary force, the knowledge that they are being recorded could make the difference.
Second, if every interaction between officers and citizens is recorded, it’s much easier to determine if police are acting ethically. This is especially true in incidents that require force. When an officer is in a situation that escalates to violence, footage of the incident recorded on the body cam can clarify if force, and especially lethal force, was necessary.
Additionally, footage of the incident can be shared with the community to put to rest any controversy surrounding incidents that do require force.
The police chief has said that footage would be available to citizens to review, and this is key. Because without public access to the footage, its purpose is moot.
Body camera footage isn’t currently considered public record anywhere in the country, though legislation to qualify it as such has been proposed in multiple states, including Wyoming. That means the onus is on McPheeters to share the footage with the public. We hope he does so after significant incidents. That’s the path to greater trust and accountability.
We’re glad to see the chief taking action to keep citizens and officers safe, and we’re glad the Casper City Council is on board. The community as a whole will be all the better for it.