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Some police in US looking to body cameras on their own

24 April 2015, 09:21

New Richmond - The dramatic body camera video shows the homicide suspect charging at the officer, screaming - pleading, even - for him to open fire.

"Shoot me!" yells Michael Wilcox to the back-pedalling officer, who keeps the suspect at bay until he ultimately surrenders when backup arrives.

The widely circulated video from Ohio police officer Jesse Kidder's own personal body camera illustrates not only the kind of life-or-death moments officers can face, but also how some in law enforcement are getting cameras on their own if their departments can't.

The tense encounter was recorded on a camera a family member had given Kidder in the aftermath of the violent protests that broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, after an officer fatally shot a black 18-year-old - one of a number of controversial killings by police in the US over the past year.

That shooting was not videotaped, although others have been either with police cameras or by witnesses.

While some police around the United States have baulked at the use of body cameras, saying they would subject them to an unreasonable level of monitoring, interest in supplying them to officers is growing. Studies of camera use by police in Rialto, California, and Mesa, Arizona, showed steep declines in citizen complaints and in use of force by officers.

In the Ohio village of New Richmond, where Kidder's restraint last week in the face of a potentially deadly suspect has drawn wide acclaim, police chief Randy Harvey said the video shows why he'd like to have the wearable cameras for all his officers. But he needs to figure out how to pay for them, an issue for many departments, large and small.

"It's all out there for everybody to see - it eliminates any questioning or second-guessing or speculation as to what really occurred," said Harvey, a police officer for more than three decades who said he "believes in my heart" that the vast majority of officers act with similar judgement.

Kidder had spotted the fleeing suspect and followed him in his police cruiser. Dispatchers had told him Wilcox could try to force a "suicide by cop" after his girlfriend was found dead.

50 000 cameras

Now hundreds of departments are trying them out and buying them - if they can pay hundreds of dollars for each device and the additional expenses they will have to incur - and President Barack Obama is pushing a $75m plan to help buy 50 000 body cameras for police.

"It's just an added safeguard to the public and an added layer of accountability for our officers," said Capt Jim Sizemore of the Fayette County, West Virginia, sheriff's department, which was introduced to body cameras when an individual deputy bought his own, wanting to document his policing and protect against false accusations.

Kidder, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, told WLWT-TV that he wanted to "absolutely sure" before using deadly force against Wilcox.

Wilcox, 27, is being held in jail on $2m bond. A public defender assigned to him on Monday said she hadn't talked with him. Police in Kentucky were also investigating him in connection with a slaying last week, but haven't named a suspect in that case.

Harvey said this week that Kidder was back to his regular duties.

"He doesn't look at himself as a hero," Harvey said.

- AP


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