Editorial by Vicke Kepling, Green Party Candidate for Missouri House District 135
“No justice, no peace.”
Millions of people worldwide participated in recent racial justice events against police brutality after the heinous murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Thousands of area citizens marched with Springfield Black Lives Matter last Saturday, and the action was one of many local, powerful gatherings, of which participants will tell their children about for generations to come.
While walking my district that morning, I spoke with my city council representative, who said that council is considering the purchase of body cameras for city police officers. This is the time, I thought to myself: the public killing of Floyd and the historic uprising that followed are really going to bring change this time.
However, folks have a right to be skeptical. As a longtime activist, I marched in Ferguson with the NAACP in 2014 after the killing of Michael Brown and participated in local actions after the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and so many others. Citizens asked city council and the police chief to provide body cameras for police then, but the request was not granted.
According to the National Institute for Justice, the use of body cameras by police officers has many benefits: 1) better transparency and accountability; 2) increased civility and fewer complaints lodged against law enforcement; 3) quicker resolution of citizen complaints and lawsuits; 4) collaborating evidence in arrests and prosecutions; and 5) opportunities to advance training and professionalism by assessing officer behavior (including possible racist behavior).
Money, of course, is a factor, and council members are looking into a number of financial sources for the possible purchase of body cameras. Many citizens would agree that money should be used for cameras over “militarizing” our police force, such as the council-approved purchase of a long-range acoustic device (LRAD) in November of last year.
With an increasing rate of violent crime, a history of police shootings, and being named as one of the most dangerous cities in America, it is important that Springfield take a proactive stance in lowering crime rates, not just react to crime. Body cameras on police officers will add confidence in our city’s law enforcement and make citizens feel safer.
The movement towards the use of body cameras is occurring in many cities, and the Kansas City Police Chief announced last Wednesday that his department has secured funding for body cameras. Other cities are questioning the actions of their departments, and Minneapolis has even considered defunding their police department altogether.
Sir Robert Peel, known to be the father of modern policing, stated in 1829, “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior, and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.” Body cameras will increase civility and possibly lower crime rates in Springfield. It’s time.