- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - An Oklahoma sheriff’s agency where an ex-reserve deputy fatally shot an unarmed black man in 2015 is applying for federal money to outfit 50 of its deputies with body-worn cameras, the sheriff said Tuesday.

If the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office is approved for its 50 percent match grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the county would have to come up with roughly $50,000 of the equipment cost. The sheriff's office has 250 deputies.

With the deaths of about two-dozen black people following police encounters in the past several years, civil rights groups have called on law enforcement agencies to outfit officers with more body cameras and other technology to show transparency in their dealings with the public.

The Tulsa Police Department received about $600,000 from the DOJ in 2015 for body cameras and announced a plan in November to distribute the first 40 to officers who frequently interact with the public.

“It’s a tool that will provide for better accountability,” Sheriff Vic Regalado said Tuesday. “Body cameras are not the cure-all, but they are certainly a big step in alleviating a lot of those issues.” If the agency receives the grant, Regalado said deputies will begin field-testing the equipment in the fall.

Two of the fatal shooting incidents happened in Tulsa. In September, a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black man. Officer Betty Jo Shelby has pleaded not guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the death of 40-year-old Terence Crutcher.

The shooting was captured on video from a police helicopter and a dashboard camera, but the images don’t offer a clear view of when Shelby fired the single shot because she wasn’t wearing a body camera.

In April 2015, ex-volunteer sheriff’s deputy Robert Bates, who is white, fatally shot an unarmed Eric Harris in a city street. Part of the incident was captured on a camera mounted in a pair of a deputy’s glasses, but it was his personal device.

The Harris shooting drew thousands of county residents to petition for a grand jury to investigate allegations that Bates was unqualified to serve as a deputy but was kept on the force because of his friendship with indicted ex-Sheriff Stanley Glanz. Bates was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison last year.

Regalado, who replaced Glanz after he retired in November, said the public fallout from the Harris shooting spurred the agency into seeking the technology.

“That was part of it,” he said. “We certainly need to catch up and jump on board with that technology. It’s a priority here.”

Community activist Marq Lewis, a founder of We the People Oklahoma, the group that lobbied for a grand jury to investigate the sheriff's office in 2015, welcomed the potential investment as one way to heal “the divide in the community” after the Harris and Crutcher shootings.

“They have a lot of repairing to do,” Lewis said Tuesday. “They have to repair the community by saying, ‘trust us, I’m there for you.’

“But (the cameras have) to be backed by action and policies; it can’t be a buzzword.”

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