Michael Brown's family pushes for Mo. body camera bill
The officer-involved shooting set off weeks of protests and spurring calls for more police transparency
By Adam Aton
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Michael Brown's family urged Missouri lawmakers on Wednesday to overcome politics and pass a law requiring police to wear body cameras.
Brown's mother, Lezley McSpadden, told a Senate panel considering the issue that while body cameras are only one piece of police reform, they would go a long way to help restore community trust. She urged lawmakers to resist "political posturing" and pass legislation that would truly change policing.
"As a mother who lost her son, I ask you to not let this bill just sit on your desk," she said. "This is not a black or white issue. This is a right and wrong issue."
Brown, who was 18 and unarmed, was fatally shot by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in August 2014, setting off weeks of protests and spurring calls for more police transparency in a city where many felt the largely white police department used excessive force against the majority black residents. The U.S. Department of Justice cleared the officer of wrongdoing, but it said Ferguson's policing was often discriminatory and aimed at generating ticket revenue.
McSpadden said body cameras were no substitute for good police and good policies, but that recordings of other police shootings showed some officers initially lied about what happened.
"I still do not have closure or the solid truth of what happened that day," she said.
Ferguson has adopted police body cameras since Brown's death, but a similar legislative proposal failed last year, and lawmakers didn't pass any bills last year addressing when police can use deadly force. Rep. Shawn Rhoads, the Republican chairman of the House's committee on public safety and a reserve deputy for the Howell County Sheriff's Office, has said he has concerns about state-mandated body cameras because of their cost and potential privacy violations.
The latest legislation would require police in any city with at least 100,000 residents to wear a body camera on duty and to record the entirety of official interactions. Its sponsor, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, said the state would pay for the cameras, and funding was part of the reason for the population limit.
Five cities would currently fall into that category: St. Louis, Kansas City, Independence, Springfield and Columbia. Nasheed said she would like to broaden the measure to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and other large departments, such as the St. Louis County Police Department.
Rep. Paul Fitzwater, a Republican who serves on the House's public safety appropriations committee, said he hasn't heard any discussions about budgeting state money for body cameras, and funding for many agencies is "bare bone" already.
"I just don't know how they would find the money," he said.
Nasheed's bill would require police departments to retain body camera footage for two years, and apply the same procedures for releasing the footage that applies to incident reports. Those are open records, though police can withhold details of them that could jeopardize an investigation or someone's safety.
The bill would require officers to inform people they are being recorded unless doing so would be impractical or unsafe, and officers who fail to record an incident would be suspended without pay pending an investigation.
Nobody spoke against the bill. No law enforcement officials testified, and representatives with the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nasheed said she's been working with police to address concerns they have on issues such as punishment for officers who don't turn on their cameras. She added that the tone of this year's discussions is significantly better than last year.
McSpadden said she was shocked at how quickly her son's character was "assassinated."
"Michael Brown, my son, was not some fictional character or Incredible Hulk. He was my son. You don't know my son," she said. "This evidence can also ensure that one's guilt or innocence is determined in a court of law, and not in the court of public opinion."
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