Editorial: Police body cams aren’t perfect, but are vital technology

A body-worn video camera is not a perfect tool for police officers, but it is an essential one.

With approval from the City Council, Oak Harbor Police Chief Kevin Dresker is moving forward with buying body cameras for all officers, replacing the limited and glitchy cameras inside patrol cars.

Island County Sheriff Rick Felici also wants to equip his deputies with cameras and has proposed it as a budget goal, but it’s unclear when he will have the funding. Perhaps federal grants will become available.

For Oak Harbor, the cost is $125,000 over a five-year period. It would be more for the sheriff’s office since it has more people.

Body cams simply make sense nowadays. After all, cameras are everywhere, from banks to Walmart to private homes to, of course, cell phones. It doesn’t make sense for police officers not to take advantage of the technology, which is more affordable and easier to use than ever.

More than half the police departments in the nation already have body cams and even more are turning to the technology following nationwide protests over police brutality against Black people.

That hasn’t been an issue on Whidbey Island, but there are instances in which body cams could have added clarity to situations.

Island County, for example, is facing a $20-million tort from a man injured in a police-involved shooting in 2017. Video may have helped to clarify what happened in that complex situation.

Recent studies suggest that the presence of the cameras may not affect either police or suspects’ behavior very much, which may be a result of the ubiquitous use of video nowadays.

People on camera isn’t a new situation for anyone.

Police body cams also won’t clarify what happened in every situation. There are countless examples of video being interpreted differently by different people.

In the end, body cams aren’t a panacea, but they can provide additional evidence when the truth of a situation is being sorted out.

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