Time and time again, video proves invaluable in the encounters between law enforcement officers and civilians. One way or another, the images document a portrait of truth that cannot be denied.
That's been the experience in numerous cities where police are equipped with body cameras that record their confrontations with citizens. Civilians already can record interactions on cell phones, so ample evidence exists about those interactions.
Cameras on officers increase accountability on the legality of an official encounter and decrease complaints about misconduct and abuse. In cases where law enforcement acts professionally and appropriately, video builds public trust.
Unfounded accusations will be plainly evident with a video, and that has been shown many times with agencies called into question throughout the country.
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Herald reporter Kate Irby put a spotlight on this issue in the aftermath of the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Footage of that encounter apparently does not exist, and sales of body cameras since have surged.
No Manatee County law enforcement agency currently equips officers with those cameras, though that is a major topic of discussion now. As it should be. Cost is a roadblock.
Body cameras are expensive. As Irby reported, the Orlando Police Department spent $800 for each of the 50 cameras purchased. That totals some $40,000, an expensive bite out of that city's budget -- but one worth the expense.
Those cameras have cut down on the number of abusive complaints about police force, including one where a suspect claimed an officer planted a gun at a crime scene. The video, however, exposed the suspect taking a weapon out of the waistband of his jeans and placing the gun on the ground.
That irrefutable evidence quickly ended the phony complaint.
How might similar incidents quickly solve complaints about unwarranted complaints against officers, and end internal law enforcement investigations that divert officers away from other tasks?
But video is not completely objective, as is the case in some of the subtleties of human interaction. Differing interpretations merit judicial judgments. The public should be assertive about the acquisition of police body cameras for several reasons.
University of South Florida professor Wesley Jennings is conducting a study on the Orlando pilot program and suspects he will find a reduction in force by officers wearing the devices. His current data supports that point. That research also exposed incidents in which officers need more training.
Dash cameras have been around for years, often exonerating officers from complaints. While the Bradenton Police Department installed dash cameras for $150,000 in all patrol cars, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office only has those in traffic unit vehicles. The Palmetto Police Department has cameras in most patrol vehicles.
Body cameras would add another layer of security for both law enforcement and civilians. Those cameras are an idea whose time has come.