Ferguson police begin using body cameras; Chicago next? - KMSP-TV

Ferguson police begin using body cameras; Chicago next?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Police officers in Ferguson, Missouri -- which became a flashpoint for protests following the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer just over three weeks ago -- have begun using body cameras.

Also, those cameras may soon be used in Chicago.

Use of body cameras has been growing steadily among police departments nationwide. They're battery operated, can be clipped to different parts of the uniform, and capture dozens of hours of video or thousands of photos.

However now, body cameras are in the headlines because of Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that approximately 50 cameras were donated by two companies, Safety Visions and Digital Ally, last week. Officers had the devices on during a protest march Saturday and captured what Jackson said were high-quality images of demonstrators taunting police.

Jackson said that the cameras were being assigned to the city's police squads and each officer would get one to use. Representatives from the two companies had visited the police department earlier Saturday to train officers on how to use the cameras.

"They are really enjoying them," Jackson said. "They are trying to get used to using them."

Support for officers wearing outward-facing cameras has increased since the August 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., suggested that police departments should require officers to wear body cameras in order to receive federal funding. McCaskill, like other supporters of the cameras, said that footage could help determine whether an officer was being wrongfully accused of misconduct by a civilian.

"Everywhere I go people now have cameras,” McCaskill said. "And police officers are now at a disadvantage, because someone can tape the last part of an encounter and not tape the first part of the encounter. And it gives the impression that the police officer has overreacted when they haven't."

However, some law enforcement leaders and civil liberties advocates say that the lack of clear guidelines on the cameras' use could potentially undermine departments' goals of creating greater accountability of officers and jeopardize the privacy of both the public and law enforcement officers.

"Police have a lot of interactions with civilians. Police for example, peer into people's cars. They go into people's homes," said Ed Yohnka of the ACLU.

He added, "There's all kinds of information and data that can be gathered about the people who live in the home that really aren't the kinds of things you would want recorded in a camera."

There's also questions about who stores the video collected by police, and for how long?

Chicago Superintendent Garry McCarthy revealed Monday the department is in the early stages of a pilot program, in which several officers have volunteered to wear the body cameras.

"I endorse it, but I'm not sure the officers are going to feel the same way," McCarthy said.

McCarthy said details of the program are still being ironed out, but believes it's a plus for police.

"Who does it benefit? I think it benefits the officer. Because almost exclusively when you see the dash cams in police cars it backs up the story that the officer is testifying to or the facts that are presented," McCarthy added.

McCarthy did not say how soon the body cameras will actually be used, and said it's something that needs to be negotiated with the fraternal order of police.

FoxNews.com contributed to this report.

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