Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaks to reporters on Aug. 14, 2014, after addressing a forum of residents and faith and community leaders who were discussing unrest in the town of Ferguson, Mo., following the shooting death of Michael Brown. / Scott Olson, Getty Images
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - No police department should get federal funds unless they put cameras on officers, Sen. Claire McCaskill says.
Such a requirement would represent a "great legacy" to come from the death of Ferguson teen Michael Brown, the Democratic senator from Missouri said.
McCaskill made the proposal in response to reporter questions during a visit Tuesday in Springfield. She has already announced she will chair a congressional hearing next month on so-called police militarization.
McCaskill and others have faulted the police response at times in Ferguson. She condemned decisions by police to point weapons at protesters.
"It seems to me that before we give federal funds to police departments, we ought to mandate that they have body cams," McCaskill said.
Police are now at a disadvantage, McCaskill said, because people on the street can take video of the end of a police encounter and not record the first part of an encounter.
"It gives the impression the police officer has overreacted when they haven't," McCaskill said. "If the police officer has a small body cam, then not only is the community reassured that's someone not being treated unfairly, it protects that police officer from being accused of treating someone unfairly."
Brown, a black teen, was shot and killed by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson more than two weeks ago. Ferguson police do not have body cams, and do not currently use patrol car dash cams, either, meaning no official recording of an arrest or confrontation exists.
A former prosecutor, McCaskill said the physical evidence will determine which witnesses are credible in the Brown shooting. She said she has been concerned by a rush to judgment by some to say what happened before seeing the evidence.
"I think that (body cams) would go a long way toward solving some of these problems and it would be a great legacy over this tragedy that's occurred in Ferguson, regardless of what the facts say at the end as to whether anyone is criminally culpable," McCaskill said.
Springfield police do not have body cams, but do use dash cams. Police Chief Paul Williams told the News-Leader earlier this month that officers have microphones attached to their person, though they can be turned on and off.
Williams said police have field-tested body cams, but have not widely used them so far because of cost. One camera can cost up to $400.
In Rialto, Calif., officers were given body cams as part of an experiment conducted in conjunction with a Cambridge University researcher. The study, released last year, found that the use of force among officers declined compared with those who did not wear the cameras. Officers without cameras experienced twice as many incidents of use of force, according to the report.
Officers who were recorded, when they did use force, were more likely to use Tasers. In the experiment, no officer who used force was responsible for initiating physical contact when recorded, but officers initiated contact four times when not recorded.
Complaints against officers also plunged, from 28 in the year before the experiment to just three during the trial.
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