DuBose Killing Highlights Importance of Police Body Cameras

Today the Hamilton County, Ohio prosecutor’s office released body camera footage showing University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing shoot and kill 43-year-old Samuel DuBose during a routine traffic stop on July 19th. Tensing will face murder and voluntary manslaughter charges. Speaking about the killing, Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters used strong and condemning language, calling the killing “senseless” and “asinine.” He also said that the body camera footage of the killing was “invaluable.” Without it, many would probably have believed Tensing’s erroneous account of the incident.   

DuBose’s death demonstrates once again that body cameras are not a police misconduct panacea. Tensing, who knew his body camera was on, shot an unarmed man in the head and then lied about being dragged down the street. Nonetheless, the tragic incident does provide an example of how useful body camera footage can be to officials investigating allegations of police misconduct.

Ahead of the release of the video Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said that the video “is not good.” If convicted, Tensing faces life in prison.

I’ve seen many police body camera videos while researching and writing about the technology, and the video of DuBose’s death is certainly among the most disturbing that I have seen.

Watch the footage below.

Warning: this footage contains graphic violence.

Technology that highlights incidents of police misconduct ought to be welcomed by advocates of accountability and transparency in law enforcement. As Deters himself said in today’s press conference, the body camera led to Tensing’s murder indictment. 

But in order for police misconduct to be adequately addressed there need to be significant reforms of police practices and training, specifically related to the use of force. Indeed, Deters said in the press conference today that Tensing should never have been a police officer. A man who quickly resorts to shooting an unthreatening man in the head during a stop prompted by a missing license plate should not be given a gun and a badge. Yet, if it weren’t for body camera footage, Tensing would still be employed as a University of Cincinnati police officer rather than being behind bars.

The use of body cameras does raise a host of serious privacy concerns that should not be taken lightly. However, as Dubose’s killing has shown, the cameras can be instrumental in investigating police misconduct and getting dangerous police officers off the streets.

*This post has been updated