Are body cameras effective? Community leaders and officials weigh in

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the nation sees more cases of law enforcement encounters that appear to center around video, Memphis community leaders and officials are speaking out on how effective they think body-worn cameras are.

Over the last few years, video of law enforcement encounters with the public have shined a spotlight on cases.

In the case of George Floyd, it was cell phone video that led to the conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

“We’ve been, as an African American community we’ve been making cases for years about brutality, but we couldn’t prove it,” said Pastor Bill Adkins with Greater Imani Church. “It was our word against their word, and now with the advent of cell phone cameras, we have evidence now.”

Video evidence is now also captured by body-worn cameras on officers out on the streets every day. Thursday, the Shelby County District Attorney said two officers were justified when they shot and killed a Frayser man after they say he pointed a pistol at officers.

The encounter was captured by body-worn cameras.

“They are a great help. They let us see from a front-row seat what happened,” said Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich. “Not only do they help in holding people accountable, they’re also helpful in exonerating people.”

“I think body cameras can do their job,” Adkins said. “I think it’s imperative that officers have them on. Because not only do they help us with transparency, but it even helps the police officers to prove their cases in many matters.”

Adkins is a long-time community advocate who served on the committee that interviewed Memphis’ next police chief. When asked about how crucial it is for the public to have access to see body camera footage, he said it’s a topic that’s been discussed in the Reimagining Policing committee.

“We talked about actually having a website where every citizen can go to that website and actually see these videos. I think it’s important that we see those videos,” Adkins said.

He understands why some video isn’t released immediately during an investigation but believes access leads to public trust.

“There’s no point in having the cameras if we can’t see the video,” Adkins said.

Adkins says he does believe strides have been made in sharing information and we’re headed in the right direction.

Weirich says it’s also important to remember video isn’t the only piece of evidence in cases. They have many other factors they have to look at, too.

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