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EDITORIAL: Bodycams are a tool - but the system is broken

THE latest police shooting has seen divided claims between the family of the young man who died, 18-year-old Kwondrick Lowe, and police officers.

It is not unusual for there to be different sides to a story, of course, and one of the tools that can help resolve what did or did not happen is the use of body cameras by police officers.

The rollout of those cameras took place in August 2020, with initially 200 officers of the Mobile Unit outfitted with devices, which were part of a kit that included dashboard cameras.

At the time, then Police Commissioner Paul Rolle outlined how they would be used.

He said: “The purpose of the camera is one, to assist us and the policy makers and decision makers with accurate accounts as we have always had questions surrounding activities. This is going to give us, hopefully, a third eye which should also help to mitigate against some of the complaints that are levied against the police. And, also to help the police officers to be accountable. We are all about accountability and I would like to know that our officers are accountable for their actions while out on patrol.”

The cameras continuously record footage of everywhere the officer wearing it goes, with officers instructed to turn on the audio when they are dispatched to a scene. They can also be activated when the strobe lights on top of a police car are switched on.

The footage reportedly cannot be erased or edited by officers or the force’s IT personnel.

In the most recent police shooting, the family of the young man who was killed want to see any camera footage of the incident so they can see what happened.

National Security Minister Wayne Munroe, speaking in yesterday’s Tribune, said he did not know if officers had any body cams at the incident - but that if they did then such footage would not be released until a trial or an inquest.

To date, we cannot recall any body cam footage being released to the public by the police since their introduction - a far cry from the situation in the United States, from where such footage is frequently seen on news stations and in social media.

Such footage can create an expectation for how such recordings would be treated here, but even in those early days, former Commissioner Rolle said that the public should not expect the same kind of process as in the United States.

From the start, officers have pointed out that if there is an incident where footage can be considered evidence, it becomes property of the coroner. And that is where the real problem lies.

Body camera footage is an excellent tool for use in a system that has ground to a halt.

For families wanting answers, to have that footage locked away until the coroner holds an inquest is frustrating to start with.

Add to that the fact it has been been nearly three years since any kind of inquest into a police-involved shooting took place and it becomes nigh impossible for people to understand how they will ever find out if the shooting was justified.

There is also, it seems, something of a dual standard in who gets to see the footage. For example, while families must wait, Mr Munroe himself spoke of one incident in January of last year where a marine was shot dead by police. Mr Munroe said at the time that video footage was consistent with accounts of officers in the shooting. Who got to decide that? Mr Munroe? If indeed that was evidence, it should have been in the coroner’s hands, not Mr Munroe’s.

In The Tribune this week, one father lamented the apparent lack of prosecutors in cases of police-involved shootings, saying: “The Attorney General is saying that they cannot find any prosecutors to prosecute the matter.”

Another family questioned an incident where officers opened fire on a vehicle said to have tinted windows and asked how could officers see it was safe to fire?

The delay in cases was initially exacerbated by COVID-19 and the restrictions that went with lockdowns, and then a former coroner was elevated to the Supreme Court leaving a gap. Still, an acting coroner was named in September 2021, but still no progress - as the Director of Public Prosecutions has yet to appoint a lawyer to handle the cases.

Chief Justice Sir Ian Winder spoke to the issue just this month, when he said that an officer had been identified to carry out the role - but that had fallen through. He said: “The search continues, I’m advised to locate a replacement mashall.”

That so much hinges on so few people assigned to handle such matters speaks volumes. We need more coroners, not just one. We need more marshalls, not just one. And while we wait, the old cases remain unresolved and new cases pile up on top.

And this is far from an uncommon occurrence - The Tribune has previously reported how when such shootings are considered on a per capita rate, we have one of the highest totals of police-involved killings in the world.

We need to unblock the inquest system that leaves people without answers - and for that matter, which leaves officers with question marks over them when they might be completely exonerated by any such investigation.

Until we do, though, we should reconsider the handling of bodycam footage. We should be cautious - it is not an entertainment. We do not want to see it idly shared around social media where family members might unexpectedly witness the death of their loved one again and again. But some method of being able to access the videos by representatives of families so that they can see what occurred and perhaps gain some closure - rather than being left to wait by a system that denies justice by delaying it so long.

People just want answers - and our current system is not providing them.

Comments

bahamianson 2 months ago

Yes, but the tool does not work.

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John 2 months ago

‘ People just want answers - and our current system is not providing them.’
. In the case of the five Memphis police officers charged with killing a 29 y/o motorist, authorities said they wanted to ensure that the officers were jailed before the video got to the public. That is how horrific some of the footage is of the five officers beating this motorist for three minutes, non stop. And the motorist appears disoriented and not even sure of why he was stopped.
. . In the Bahamas no tool, body cams, dash cams etc will be effective as long as police are contiued to be allowed to investigate themselves. At least to the level where someone is seriously injured or dies at the hands of police officers. In most police killings, a police report says ‘the victim brandished a weapon or fired on police officers and the officers, being in fear of their lives returned fire and killed the victim.’ But what do eye witness say? What is captured on the police own body cams? Does it make the matter any more right if a person is murdered by criminals or wrongfully killed by police? Yes, give the police license and freedom to do their jobs. But at the same time keep them accountable and with the understanding that they will be responsible for any wrong-doing.

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DonAnthony 2 months ago

Very telling but all 5 officers are black. Will there be rioting nonetheless?

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mandela 2 months ago

Bahamians, our politicians tell us things like we have body cameras in place and are using them just to keep us quiet and feel like they care, but the reality is they are most likely not using them at all and just pretending to do so, so we will never see any footage of this. Ever.

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