Raleigh Report

Before police shooting, Raleigh chief intended to lay out body camera plan

A police officer’s fatal shooting of a suspect on Monday ignited calls for Raleigh officers to wear body-worn cameras – but prompted city leaders to postpone a discussion on the cameras that happened to be scheduled for the same day.
A police officer’s fatal shooting of a suspect on Monday ignited calls for Raleigh officers to wear body-worn cameras – but prompted city leaders to postpone a discussion on the cameras that happened to be scheduled for the same day. hlynch@newsobserver.com

On the day one of her officers shot and killed a man he was trying to arrest, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown intended to lay out a plan for city leaders to consider buying body cameras for the department.

Deck-Brown planned to suggest that the city seek bids so police could use 100 body cameras as early as next winter and grow its stock to 250 cameras a year later, according to a slideshow presentation she planned to give to the City Council early Monday afternoon. Deck-Brown’s plan would cost an estimated $1.25 million for the first year and $5.2 million over five years, according to the presentation, which was canceled when the shooting took place.

The slideshow offers “an implementation option” for the council’s consideration, said police spokesman Jim Sughrue. Deck-Brown “has noted the body-worn camera issue was complex and that there were many facets and factors to consider before launching a program,” Sughrue said in an email. “On the other hand, the chief and others in the department have studied the development of the technology and considered information from various sources about the benefits provided by the cameras.”

On Tuesday, the City Council rescheduled Deck-Brown’s body camera presentation for March 15. “The sooner we can have this conversation and get her recommendation about this, the better off we’ll all be,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.

Transparency advocates have increasingly called on police to wear body cameras that record their activities since a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014. And some, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina, say Monday’s shooting and the lack of information provided by the Raleigh Police Department show that cameras are needed.

The Rev. William Barber II, president of the state NAACP, said that the organization has always supported body cameras for police in the state but that whether they would have helped in the shooting death of Akiel Denkins is uncertain. Police say Officer D.C. Twiddy was trying to arrest Denkins, 24, on an outstanding felony drug charge when he ran, and Deck-Brown said a firearm was found near Denkins’ body.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said Tuesday that his department has been reluctant to adopt the cameras because the cost of video storage is high and the peripheral vision of body-worn cameras is low.

“If you put your hands up to raise your weapon, it blocks the view,” Harrison said. “If you’re wearing glasses (with a camera attached), they’re the first thing that gets knocked off if you’re running through the woods.”

The cameras, if kept running at all times, also pose questions about privacy, said Rick Armstrong, spokesman for Teamsters Local 391, which represents Raleigh’s police union.

“Officers see lots of things that shouldn’t be open to the public,” Armstrong said, noting the sensitive nature of domestic violence calls.

Garner has tested police body cameras but pulled them off the streets over privacy concerns. Durham City Council members cited similar concerns when they delayed a vote on buying police cameras last month.

None of the Triangle’s largest municipalities – Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill or Cary – require officers to wear the cameras. But larger cities such as Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro, Wilmington and Winston-Salem have tried them in some capacity, according to Deck-Brown’s slideshow.

Raleigh City Council members seem to support the idea of police wearing body cameras but said Tuesday that they want to hear from Deck-Brown and consider Raleigh’s financial situation before commenting further.

“I want to see what our options are and then make a decision,” said Councilman Corey Branch, who represents Southeast Raleigh.

“I think the more information we have, the better,” Councilman Bonner Gaylord said. “We also need to make sure whatever bodycam implementation we pursue, we take the time to do it right.”

Some residents pressed Deck-Brown about body cameras at a series of public meetings in December. Geraldine Alshamy of a group called the Police Accountability Community Task Force said Tuesday that she asked Deck-Brown about the cameras.

“She said there was not enough money,” Alshamy said. “She said storing the data from the cameras was expensive.”

The task force was formed last April by city activists who wanted to address what they see as the “over-policing of black and brown communities,” said Akiba Byrd, the group’s spokesman. Byrd called Deck-Brown’s Face-to-Face community meetings in December a “farce.”

“The main point she wanted to get out at those meetings was officer safety,” Byrd said.

Byrd said Denkins’ death underscores the need for body cameras.

“But the caveat is citizens’ right to privacy isn’t violated and access to (body camera) data is ensured,” he added. “It also underscores the need for an autonomous police civilian review board that has subpoena powers to compel all persons to be present, and that our findings could lead to the suspension, termination or criminal charges against officers.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht