After years of complaints of police misconduct, some residents of high-crime neighborhoods in St. Louis are being given free video cameras to help them monitor officers.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri launched the project Wednesday after television crews last year broadcast video of officers punching and kicking a suspect who led police on a car chase.
"The idea here is to level the playing field, so it's not just your word against the police's word," said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU chapter.
The ACLU has given cameras and training to about 10 residents in north St. Louis, a high-crime, low-income part of the city that members said is plagued by police misconduct. The group hopes to expand the program to 50 to 100 residents.
Police spokesman Richard Wilkes declined to comment when asked how the program might affect police relations with the public.
"We don't have any opinions or feelings about it one way or another," Wilkes said. "Hopefully it records positive interactions between the police and the community."
Former police Sgt. K.L. Williams is overseeing the training, teaching residents how to videotape officers from a safe distance without interrupting arrests or searches.
"The citizens are not there to interfere with any police contacts," Williams said.
ACLU spokesman Redditt Hudson said the program also will include free workshops to teach residents about their rights when approached by police.
Project organizers have worked closely with police to make sure they are aware of the program's goals, Jones said.
The ACLU declined to release the names of people participating in the video monitoring.