GERMANTOWN – For over a decade, Linda Plummer has campaigned on transparency in policing.
As President of the Montgomery County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Plummer was glad to see that her campaign for police to wear body cameras has come to fruition in Montgomery County.
“So this has leveled itself out over the years, but we, the NAACP, were the ones who began speaking about body cameras,” Plummer said.
The national conversation over community-police relations was reignited this month after videos of police using lethal force in Baton Rouge, La., and Falcon Heights, Minn. went viral.
“Social media has really opened up our eyes to the some of the crises going on really,” Plummer said.
On July 20, local police, community leaders and residents gathered in Germantown to discuss community-police relations in a town hall meeting.
Since many people around the country have questioned how police have used lethal force, some have argued that filming the police is part of a solution to holding police accountable.
Montgomery County Police began a pilot body camera program in 2015, which issued body-worn cameras to police officers who volunteered to wear them. The program has now moved beyond its pilot stage and is almost fully implemented.
“When body-worn camera discussions started, post-Ferguson or in years past, a lot of folks demanded that…’we ought to put these cameras on the police, that way we will catch them doing these bad things.’ I will tell you what it is catching, it’s catching just how challenging this job is,” said Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger.
According to Assistant Police Chief Darryl McSwain, currently 815 officers wear a TASER body camera. The goal is to outfit 850 of the County’s 1250 officers with cameras by the end of the summer. Manger said within the next few months every patrol officer will wear a body camera.
While some officers said they were at first resistant to wearing body cameras, some said that they found the cameras have made their job easier.
“From my vantage point, the one thing that has really helped is when we tell people that they’re on camera the conversation tends to go a little bit smoother,” said Montgomery County Police Commander Capt. David Anderson. “And then when we get complaints, the complaints are remedied much faster, because we can actually look at the video and determine exactly what occurred.”
Although Plummer said she is pleased to see police wear body cameras, she said there is still distrust in the African-American community in the County toward police officers –particularly among young people –and that body cameras will not make a difference in improving community relations.
Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice (D-2) said he believes that body cameras will make a difference in improving relations between the community and police.
“I think it’s going to give our community a lot more comfort in feeling as though if there were some kind of egregious behavior or something bad that was going on with the police officer’s actions, that those would be captured by the body cameras,” Rice said. “I also think on the other flip side, that it will paint a different picture of what people always assume, from what they see from some very unfortunate incidents that we are seeing with our police, and thinking that’s always the case.”