Warning: This post includes graphic images.
On Wednesday in Ohio, a white police officer, Ray Tensing, was indicted for the murder of a black man, Samuel Dubose.
Tensing was wearing a body camera, and the resulting video shows how a routine traffic stop turned deadly.
As the New York Times reports, prosecuting attorney Joseph T. Deters thought the video was crucial evidence in the determination of the trial, demonstrating that police body cameras can have major effect on policing and citizens’ rights.
While few large-scale empirical studies have been done about the longterm effects of body cameras, the present research suggest there are strong effects. A year after police in Rialto, California, started wearing body cameras, the use of force by officers fell by 60% and citizen complaints about police fell by 88%, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The body cameras also serve as objective witness in trials. In his report of the incident, Tensing said that he had been dragged along by Dubose’s car, giving him a reason to fire his weapon. But the video shows that he was not in fact dragged, he fell backwards.
Here’s how the whole scene worked out:
The officer, who was fired from the University of Cincinnati police force, stopped Dubose because he didn’t have a front licence plate. He then asked Dubose to produce his driver’s licence. Dubose said he had one, but didn’t have it on him. Tensing asked if it was suspended.
Then things started moving fast: Tensing reached into Dubose’s car, and you could hear the engine revving, like Dubose was trying to drive away. Then Tensing pulled out his gun and fired — killing Dubose.
Here’s a clip of the altercation:
As the New York Times’s Richard Pérez-Peña reports, prosecuting attorney Joseph T. Deters thought the video showed that “Mr. Dubose did not act aggressively or pose a threat to Officer Ray Tensing, and that Officer Tensing had lied about being dragged by Mr. Dubose’s car. A grand jury, Mr. Deters announced, indicted the officer on a murder charge, punishable by life in prison, and a voluntary manslaughter charge.”
In the wake of those incidents, the Obama administration said it would provide $US20 million for police body cameras. Legal scholars and journalists asked if those cameras would even work — and the Cincinnati case suggests that they do.
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