Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has said that police departments across America should require officers to wear body cameras before they can receive federal funds.
"It seems to me that before we give federal funds to police departments, we ought to mandate that they have body cams," McCaskill said, according to the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. "
On Monday, McCaskill had attended the funeral of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black teen who was fatally shot August 9 by a white police officer in his hometown of Ferguson, Mo. The shooting prompted protests, which were aggravated by what many saw as a heavy-handed response by law enforcement, involving tear gas, smoke canisters, and the use of surplus military equipment, including tanks.
McCaskill plans to lead Senate subcommittee hearings next month investigating federal programs that provide state and local police departments with military equipment.
On Tuesday, the senator claimed that the use of body cameras would help police officers falsely accused of misconduct as well as citizens who run afoul of a particular policeman.
"Everywhere I go people now have cameras,” McCaskill said. "And police officers are now at a disadvantage, because someone can tape the last part of an encounter and not tape the first part of the encounter. And it gives the impression that the police officer has overreacted when they haven’t."
McCaskill is not the only elected official to call for police to begin wearing cameras. Earlier this month, New York City's public advocate called for a pilot program to put body-worn cameras on patrol officers in 15 percent of the city's precincts following the death of a Staten Island man who was put in a chokehold by arresting officers.
"I think that would go a long way toward solving some of these problems and it would be a great legacy over this tragedy that's occurred in Ferguson, regardless of what the facts say at the end as to whether anyone is criminally culpable," McCaskill said.
Officers in approximately one of every six police departments wear body cameras while on patrol, Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the national American Civil Liberties Union, told the Associated Press earlier this year. However, some law enforcement leaders and civil liberties advocates say that the lack of clear guidelines on the cameras' use could potentially undermine departments' goals of creating greater accountability of officers and jeopardize the privacy of both the public and law enforcement officers.
Other law enforcement officials have raised concerns about the cost of the cameras at a time when many departments are looking to save money. Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams told the News-Leader that his officers have field-tested body cams, but have not widely used them due to the cost, with one camera can costing as much as $400.