In pilot program, D.C. police will soon use body cameras

Police body cameras. (NewsChannel 8)

WASHINGTON (NewsChannel 8) - The Metropolitan Police Department will launch a body camera pilot program beginning Oct. 1 as part of a six-month districtwide trial, according to the Washington Times.

Citing purchase orders and invoices, the Times reports that MPD has, so far, received at least 250 cameras.

Police officials would not confirm or comment on program details. MPD Director of Communications Gwendolyn Crump said no cameras have been deployed.

“This has been underway for nearly 18 months and we will announce the initiative accordingly,” she said.

Meanwhile, the New York Police Department announced Thursday it is launching a pilot program to test 60 cameras worn by officers, becoming the latest and largest police department in the country to accept the technology as a tool of modern law enforcement.

At a news conference, Police Commissioner William Bratton predicted that the cameras would soon become as commonplace as police radios and bulletproof vests.

In the aftermath of the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., police departments across the country have been reviewing their policies and some have been introducing new technology, like body cameras.

Several months ago – long before Ferguson made headlines – MPD started budgeting and planning its pilot program.

After Brown’s death, there is still much debate over race, police brutality and cops using military equipment. If there's any agreement, it seems many Americans believe body cameras could potentially prevent violence by officers or against officers. Many also believe such cameras would resolve questions in some controversial cases like Brown’s killing.

In fact, the Ferguson Police Department is now using the technology – with cameras donated, one for every officer on that force.

The Metropolitan Police Department says $1 million of District funds were withdrawn in May to purchase body cameras for MPD’s pilot program.

On NewsTalk, Chief Cathy Lanier called it a win-win.

“All of that is now captured on video,” she said. “And believe me, no matter who you are, police or civilian, everybody acts a little bit differently when they know they're on camera.”

Groups like the ACLU welcome the transparency and accountability body cameras can bring, but they say the technology won't solve everything.

They want clear department policies. For example, when can cameras be turned on, or turned off, when do citizens have a right to privacy and who has access to that footage?

“Technology will not get us to the full end result of better policing and better interactions with the public but it may serve as a tool on that road,” said Monica Hopkins-Maxwell, executive director of the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital.

The Metropolitan Police Department says it is still developing a comprehensive policy for body cameras.

The official launch date of the pilot program has not been released, but it is reportedly just weeks away.