ST. BERNARD PARISH, La. — From the beating of Rodney King in the 90’s to last year’s killing of George Floyd, some of the most impactful video of police encounters were captured by bystanders.
From Sheriff James Pohlmann’s perspective, this is where body cameras can make a difference.
“We need someone to tell our side of the story as well, if not, somebody is going to tell that story for you,” Sheriff Pohlmann said.
The Saint Bernard Parish Sherriff’s Office this week began using 130 body cameras, 50 in-car cameras and tasers. The cost will spread over 5 years and totals $1.6 million.
For a relatively small parish, that’s significant money, but Pohlmann said it’s a necessary investment. Sheriff Pohlmann said the push to get the body-worn cameras didn’t come from the public, but his deputies. He said the high-profile police shootings in recent years played a factor.
“You get nervous about getting caught up in something, whether it’s a critical incident or somebody making a frivolous complaint against you," Pohlmann said. "Any of those types of things so it’s an opportunity for their story to be told through their lens.”
Of the 10 other sheriff offices in our viewing area, only Terrebonne, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes use body cameras. Several agencies did state they are seeking funding and planning to implement the use of body cameras.
The Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office said it’s researching ways to incorporate body cameras into next year’s budget. The Plaquemines Parish Sheriff’s Office said it’s trying to find funding for body cameras.
The largest agency, the Jefferson Parish Sherriff’s office, has consistently cited the high cost of the technology, especially the storage and maintenance of the footage.
Dr. Peter Scharf is a criminologist with LSU Health Sciences in New Orleans. He said if money is a concern, city and parish governments may want to consider the $27-million civil settlement recently paid to George Floyd’s family.
“Body cameras are a K-mart special bargain compared to the liability cost police departments are facing,” said Dr. Scharf.
Scharf said cases involving body cameras often result in police exonerations. He also points to body cameras as training tools.
“This is a great tool not just to document behavior after the fact but to train officers, so we don’t have another (officer) Chauvin.”
At a time when almost everyone has a camera in their pocket, Scharf says police need more cameras of their own, for their protection and yours.