- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

A D.C. Council member has reintroduced legislation to equip guns used by the District’s police forces with cameras after a man was fatally shot by police in Northeast.

Council member Harry Thomas Jr. on Tuesday introduced a bill requiring Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to come up with a “plan for the installation of video and audio recording devices on service firearms of all police and special police officers.”

Similar legislation died in the council’s public safety committee last year after opposition from police, who say the cameras are bulky and fail to capture crucial evidence because they only begin recording once the officer draws the weapon.

Mr. Thomas said he reintroduced the bill after hearing from residents of the Trinidad neighborhood who questioned the circumstances regarding the June 8 shooting of Trey Joyner, 25, by law enforcement officers.

“I was going to keep reintroducing it until we can find a reasonable way to use technology,” Mr. Thomas said.

The new bill is almost identical to the version Mr. Thomas introduced last year but calls for audio in addition to video recording and adds special police to the forces whose weapons must be equipped with the technology.

The cameras could serve as a “black box” to alleviate doubts about what exactly happened in a confrontation, he said.

Kristopher Baumann, the head of the D.C. police union, said the cameras would come with high costs and no benefits.

The lack of footage showing a confrontation before an officer draws a gun makes the captured evidence useless, he said, and every officer would have to be retrained because the camera alters the balance of the weapon.

“As a fiscal matter and as a training matter, it’s not workable,” said Mr. Baumann. “This isn’t well thought out.”

Across the United States, firearms are involved in about two out of every 1,000 arrests, according to a report by the National Institute of Justice.

After the use of such force, officers in the District already face more scrutiny than their colleagues elsewhere in the nation, Mr. Baumann said. Shootings here are investigated by federal prosecutors and, in many cases, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“The amount of Monday-morning quarterbacking is unlike anywhere else,” he said. “Instead of rhetoric … what they need to do is to think about real solutions,” such as hiring more officers.

But the cameras are intended to serve both the community and law enforcement, Mr. Thomas said.

“Sometimes they need immediate justification on what happened,” he said. “Many good officers get caught in bad things that happen.”

The Orange County, N.Y., Sheriff’s Office is the only police force in the nation that has tried the equipment. After a four-month test, the office’s Emergency Services Unit found the devices too “cumbersome,” Capt. Dennis D. Barry said.

“The technology itself is good,” Capt. Barry said, but the cameras need to get smaller to be useful in day-to-day operation.

Mr. Thomas said the devices will improve.

“This is first-generation technology,” he said, adding that the technology “is evolving.”

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