PPD’s new body cameras look good, but some question effectiveness

PPD’s new body cameras look good, but some question effectiveness
Charles Mostoller

Thirty-one Philly cops in the 22nd District are now testing body camera technology that could eventually be expanded citywide.

“I volunteered because why not,” said Officer Lisa Figueroa, a nine-year veteran of the force about to start using her body camera. “Now everyone can see the full view. It’s just so the public can see how police come in contact with people, and they should. Now they may have a different opinion of police officers.”

“Now it’s not ‘he said, she said.’ They have actual evidence. It’s not what somebody heard or said or wrote on social media somewhere,”said Officer Paul Camarote, a 10-year veteran of the force. “It takes a second to click it on, just like using your radio.”

Given the increased scrutiny of police officers following the incidents in Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner, body cameras have been among called-for reforms.

President Barack Obama has proposed a $263 million bill for police departments nationwide with $75 million specifically for equipment such as body cameras.

“Is it a panacea? No,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “Could it have provided a more complete record in Ferguson? Yeah, probably so. Staten island? I don’t know.”

The body cameras currently in use are activated by officers when they respond to calls of trouble, which drew some criticism.

“It’s just an invitation for bad cops who intend to do bad things to do them off-camera,” said attorney Larry Krasner, who represented Askia Sabur, a West Philly man who was taped being repeatedly struck with a baton by a police officer in a video that went viral.

“I think they should have a policy that they are continuously on when police are engaging the public, especially when they are on the street,” he said.

Ramsey said it’s not clear if departments would adopt cameras that run continuously, depending on issues of technology and privacy. But he believes that cameras will fill in missing parts of the record of police activity.

“When you see these Youtube videos, the minute the melee starts is when the camera goes on. That’s all you see. You don’t have anything that shows what led up to it. If you’re wearing a body camera, you get the whole incident from start to finish,” he said.