In the wake of national protests over the non-indictments of the Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, President Barack Obama laid out a comprehensive series of actions that his administration believes will spur reform.
Among the proposals is a three-year, $263 million investment package “that will increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies, add more resources for police department reform and multiply the number of cities where [the Department of Justice] facilitates community and local LEA engagement,” according to a statement released by the White House on Dec. 4.
Included in that package is a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, a 50-percent matching grant to state and local police departments to purchase the body camera equipment and the necessary computer storage. That proposal by itself entails $75 million to be invested over three years to help purchase body cameras for 50,000 police officers.
“The initiative as a whole will help the federal government efforts to be a full partner with state and local [law enforcement agencies] in order to build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities,” the White House said.
The Congressional Black Caucus, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have all come out in support of President Obama’s body camera proposal.
But months before the president announced this new spending package, body cameras were being pressed as one possible solution to the extremely tense relationship between police and residents neighboring communities like Austin.
Anthony Hill, a youth council member with the Austin-based Westside Health Authority’s Youth Working for Success program, says he has often been the target of police harassment. In an interview in October, Hill said he and his fellow ambassadors at the WHA are so frustrated with the daily harassment that they’ve thought heavily about holding police accountable.
“We’re coming up with ways to police the police,” said the 20-year-old Hill. Both he and his WHA colleague, 19-year-old Tevin Smith, said body cameras were broached as a possible mitigating technology.
“The police should have body cameras on them that they can’t cut off, because it’s things in the streets that police are not supposed to be doing and they still do anyway,” Smith said.
One of the most prominent recent examples of alleged police brutality on the West Side has involved Harrison District police Commander Glenn Evans, a 28-year Chicago Police Department veteran whose career has been wracked with brutality allegations.
Evans has been accused of jamming his police gun into the mouth of Ricky Williams, 24, and threatening to kill him. In one of at least three lawsuits in which Evans is named as the plaintiff, the City of Chicago paid $71,000 to resident Chas Byers Sr., who alleged that Evans grabbed “his infant son’s car seat so forcefully during an arrest that the baby fell out and hit his head on a table,” according to a WBEZ report.
Evans’ alleged brutality is so prolific that a 49-page report revealed that the Harrison District commander “had at least 45 excessive-force complaints between January 1988 and December 2008. During those years, according to the report, Evans had the highest number of complaints among 1,541 officers for whom the city provided data,” WBEZ found.
Michael Romain is founder and editor of TheVillageFreePress.org