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Will Body Cameras Help? Tribal Police Departments Explore Adding the Devices

The use of body cameras by tribal police officers on America’s reservations is in various stages of implementation.

"After Ferguson happened, we pushed to try and get ahead of it. We knew there would be a demand, and there was," Chuck LeCompte, chief of police at the Cheyenne River Sioux Falls police department, told The Argus Leader.

Body cameras have been part of a growing debate about exposing officer misconduct after a series of killings by white police officers of unarmed black men were caught on camera. Most recently, a viral video of an officer in McKinney, Texas, who manhandled a group of black teens after a pool party incident, lead to the officer’s resignation.

In a news release, the Justice Department announced a $20-million Body-Worn Camera (BWC) pilot program to support the efforts of local and tribal law departments to improve relations with the public. The program is in place to provide transparency and officer accountability.

Speaking to ICTMN, LeCompte said that his officers began wearing body cameras in April, but the department applied for grant funding for the cameras back in 2013, before Ferguson resident Mike Brown was shot and killed in August 2014. LeCompte said he recognized the need for the devices after he was involved in an altercation with a suspect during an arrest.

Le Compete leads a small department of 25 officers. He said the cameras are effective evidentiary tools that don’t tie up the officers’ hands, and they also provide a certain amount of protection for the officers because they  help disprove complaints about their behavior.

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In May, the Bishop Paiute tribe in California was testing its first body camera. “This was well before Ferguson,” said Police Chief Deston Rogers, about his department’s decision to use body cameras. Rogers said the cameras have been effective. “I think it will be a positive change because there are plenty of accusations against officer conduct,” Rogers said, explaining they would be effective to diffuse bogus claims.

Randy Wesley, chief of police for the Chickasaw Lighthorse Police Department, said, “We hope to equip all officers with body cameras in the near future. We believe body cameras are useful tools as they provide a video record of interactions with citizens.”

The cameras are, at a minimum, time-savers, since fewer he-said-she-said incidents are likely to be disputed once officers review the relevant footage.

According to the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) Native Americans are statistically more likely to be killed by police than other demographics, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites and Asians (The report also said that “Native Americans, 0.8 percent of the population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings. African Americans, 13 percent of the population, are victims in 26 percent of police shootings). The CJCJ’s study did not record whether Native American men were shot disproportionately by white law enforcement officers or tribal police officers.

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