Yesterday, former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly appeared on ABC News’ This Week and said that the recent Walter Scott shooting had reversed his opinion on police body cameras. Kelly, a former body-camera skeptic, said, “We have to assume that this officer would not act the way he did if in fact he had a body camera that was recording.”
Last week, I discussed what might have happened if Michael Slager, the now-former North Charleston police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott, had been wearing a body camera. I mentioned that it is hard to imagine Slager behaving the way he did if he had been wearing an operable body camera. Video footage of Slager’s encounter with Scott, which was captured by onlooker Feidin Santana, shows that Slager shot eight rounds at Scott while he was fleeing, planted an object widely suspected of being his Taser next to Scott after the shooting, and did not attempt CPR.
A Washington Post article published the day before Kelly made his comments on This Week draws attention to how important camera footage can be in prosecuting officers facing charges in fatal shooting cases. My colleague Jonathan Blanks wrote about the findings here.
The article is full of disturbing reporting on how rare it is for a police officer involved in a fatal shooting case to face charges (only 54 have been charged out of the thousands of fatal shooting which have taken place since 2005).
In a third of the cases where officers faced charges, prosecutors introduced videos into evidence, saying they showed the slain suspects had posed no threat at the moment they were killed. The videos were often shot from cameras mounted on the dashboards of patrol cars, standard equipment for most police departments.
Had Santana not recorded Slager and Scott’s scuffle and the subsequent shooting, it is less likely that Slager would be facing a murder charge
Video footage can provide crucial insight into fatal police shootings. While it is fortunate that Santana was in a position to film Slager shoot Scott, law enforcement agencies ought to implement police body camera policies which will ensure that fatal police shootings are recorded regardless of whether a member of the public is watching.
Kelly rightly pointed out that there are issues related to body cameras, some of which I have discussed before. But these can be adequately addressed and ought not to hamper attempts to make police officers more accountable.