DOJ announces $24 million for police body cameras

Following a slew of recent officer-involved shootings plaguing departments and communities across the country, the Justice Department announced it has awarded $23.2 million in an attempt to expand body camera programs.

“From Ferguson to Baltimore and from Cleveland to New York City, we have witnessed the pain and the unrest that can ensue when trust between law-enforcement officers and the communities they serve is damaged, broken, or lost,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday during a speech at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle.

The visit was part of a multi-city tour promoting community-oriented policing, the DOJ said.

Lynch this week said the grant money would go to 73 local and tribal agencies in 32 states and is the latest in the federal government’s attempt to help mend relationships between police and the people they’ve sworn to protect.

“This vital pilot program is designed to assist local jurisdictions that are interested in exploring and expanding the use of body-worn cameras in order to enhance transparency, accountability and credibility,” Lynch said in a statement Monday.

A bulk of the grant money, $19.3 million, will be set aside for the purchase of body-worn cameras. Some $2 million has been earmarked for training and technical assistance and $1.9 million to study the impact of body camera use, the DOJ said.

The grants require an in-kind cash match and require applicants establish implementation and training policies and account for long-term storage of video data, which can be costly.

Seventy-three of 283 applicant agencies have so far been awarded grant money under the DOJ’s body-worn camera pilot program.

Most of the applications received – more than 150 – came from what the program considered to be small agencies, which were also a majority of the awardees.

Following the officer-involved shooting of a Ferguson, Missouri, man on Aug. 9, 2014, President Obama announced his plans to increase transparency by equipping the nation’s police with 50,000 body-worn cameras.

Officer Darren Wilson, who was ultimately cleared by a jury of any wrongdoing in the incident, wasn’t wearing a camera, but if he was many of the details in the case likely would have come to light more quickly, sparing the city and the country much civil unrest as a result.

The incident, like many others before and since, have raised questions about police training, officer use of force and alleged racism within many of the country’s police departments.

A study conducted last year in Rialto, California, found that the use of body cameras decreased police use of force. Since that study, officials in San Diego reported a decrease in the amount of complaints received against the city’s officers and a decrease in “personal body” use of force.

The Los Angeles Police Department said it will outfit its officers with 7,000 cameras, making it the biggest agency in the country to deploy the devices on such a large scale.          

The city was among several – Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago, Detroit and San Antonio – awarded the lion’s share of federal money in the amount of $1 million.

This article was updated with information about the attorney general’s Seattle visit.