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D.C. Police Officers May Soon Have On-Body Video Cameras

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D.C. police car (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

D.C. police car (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — The office that investigates police misconduct complaints in D.C. is urging the Metropolitan Police Department to create an on-body video camera program for its officers.

This comes just a few months after D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier announced that a camera program is one of the department’s top five priorities.

“Body cameras are emerging as an important tool in policing across the country,” says Christian Klossner, Deputy Director of D.C.’s Office of Police Complaints.

“As we learned about it and started looking at it, they show a lot of really positive potential benefits.”

He says the cameras — which can be lapel-mounted, chest-mounted or even mounted on glasses — serve as “an objective witness of sorts.”

Their presence can help prevent negative police-citizen interactions, and footage can be used for training purposes. Obviously, footage can also serve as evidence in criminal cases.

A report released by the Police Complaints Board Thursday says that, while body-worn cameras offer many benefits, “their use also implicates some concerns for members of the public, government agencies, civil liberties advocates, and even the officers who wear the devices.”

Thus, “it will be crucial for MPD to develop and implement clear policies governing video creation, access, usage, and retention.”

Klossner says a public education element to the program could be one way to ease inevitable privacy concerns from D.C. residents.

The Laurel Police Department in Maryland has had an on-body camera program for about 18 months, according to Chief Richard McLaughlin.

“Just the knowledge that the camera is there has de-escalated situations almost instantly,” he says.

“In fact, we have video from a recent incident where someone was very violent and dangerous and completely volatile until they realized they were being recorded.”

Laurel has 19 cameras and is trying to get more.

“Our SWAT team is using them for entry into buildings, our canine officers have them,” McLaughlin says.

“It’s recording everything they see. They’ve found guns and drugs in cars. When the case goes to court, there’s no way to battle that. It’s right there, on tape.”

McLaughlin says some D.C. Command Officers have already visited Laurel to observe how the program is working there.

He calls the cameras “a huge success” and says complaints about his officers have dropped, and training has improved.

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