Metro Transit Police to get body worn cameras

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The Metro Transit Police Department plans to equip officers with body cameras this year as the department seeks to boost public confidence and shatter some drivers’ reputations for excessive violence and biased policing.

The Department of Transportation received a $905,000 grant from the Justice Department to purchase the cameras for the department responsible for metro rail and bus systems in the Washington area. The new cameras are the latest change for Metro and the police department it oversees, following allegations that police are using tactics that disproportionately affect black drivers.

The agency recently appointed a new police chief, established a civilian review board to handle police complaints and has refocused officer performance reviews away from arrest quotas. Police officials say body cameras are a next step in the transformation, while civil rights groups and elected leaders say demonstrating a commitment to transparency will depend on how cameras are used and how quickly footage of incidents is shared publicly.

Transit Police said they are investigating these issues as they create guidelines for the devices, which are already in use at several police departments in the area. The department has set a goal of having officers patrolling with the cameras by 2023.

“This grant gives us the opportunity to continue to implement a body-worn camera program similar to those of our peers in the region,” Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Anzallo said in a statement. “Our focus remains on security, transparency and building community partnerships. I believe the implementation of this new program is another positive step in the right direction for the department.”

The department, which has 490 sworn police officers and 64 special officers who serve as security guards, expects the cameras to be operational by 2023.

The acting Metro police chief will remain in his role, the agency says

The use of body cams is increasing become default among law enforcement agencies. A survey by the National Institute of Justice six years ago found that nearly half of police and sheriff’s departments had purchased body-worn cameras, including 80 percent of major police departments. The growth in their use can be traced to arrests and police killings of black people in cities like Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, and New York over the past decade, prompting calls for closer scrutiny of police controls and practices.

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a summer of nationwide protests two years ago prompted several states to pass laws mandating cameras for officers, including Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina and New Mexico, according to the National Conference of State legislature.

In recent years, technology has improved to make cameras more reliable, while police departments and elected leaders have changed Guidelines to expedite the release of footage of high profile incidents.

Metro board member Tracy Hadden Loh said the work of other law enforcement agencies will serve as a guide for transit police. Loh was a member of the Mount Rainier, Md. City Council in 2016 when the city’s police department became one of the first in the state to use body-worn cameras.

“A lot of the gimmicks have been worked out in terms of technology and the best guidelines to govern how they will be used in the field and how the footage will be stored and published,” she said.

The Metro Board and Transit Police began to work Creating transparency and community relations a month after Floyd’s death a committee of inquiry. The panel consists of four non-police officials and three law enforcement officials from outside the department who critique completed internal investigations and make recommendations to improve interactions with residents.

critics say The panel has no power to sanction officials or change policies. Subway officials counter that a stronger and more autonomous board would require approval from the cities and counties served by the subway system.

Metro Board Establishes Transit Police Review Board; Critics say that’s not enough

The department also began an overhaul of policies and strategies in the summer of 2020, including increased efforts to recruit and retain minority and women officers, and changes in performance evaluation away from “quantitative metrics” such as arrest rates.

The changes came at the request of the transit police union following Floyd’s killing and were an acknowledgment of claims made by many black residents.

Carlean Ponder, co-chair of the Silver Spring Justice Coalition, accused and cited police of escalating minor issues into arrests the case of Howard University student DeSean Smith, 21, who was arrested at the Silver Spring subway station last month for fare evasion. Ponder said Smith was thrown to the ground and pressed a knee into his back while he was handcuffed and searched. Lawyers protested the arrest at the subway station last month to raise awareness of the case.

The Metro Transit Police union is calling for reforms, including ending the emphasis on arrests and “stop and question”.

“The violence wasn’t necessary,” Ponder said.

The lack of body camera footage makes it difficult to file complaints against police, Smith’s father, Kevin Smith, said.

“It’s a tough fight,” said Kevin Smith, 40, of Philadelphia. “Visual evidence is necessary, but coupled with visual evidence, that evidence needs to be seen quickly and by all change.”

DeSean Smith’s father said his son did not want to comment on the incident. Metro declined to comment on Smith’s arrest, saying it remains an active case.

The group releases the first report after reviewing complaints against the Metro Transit Police

DC Council Member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Who has called for increased oversight and surveillance of transit police while holding hearings on allegations of police abuse, said he will be eager to see the department’s body camera guidelines.

Allen said the agency needs to consider when officers turn on cameras, how long footage is stored, who can request the footage and when it is released – issues the DC Council has been addressing while creating “a full legal framework” for DC police body cameras becomes. Allen said.

“I’m not sure what [Metro’s] Proposal for it, and where is the supervision of its implementation?” he asked. “Should we expect this to come from local jurisdictions? Should that come from the [Metro] board itself? I think there’s a lot of question marks there because the video itself is a really good step, but what you do with the video and how you use it as a tool for transparency and accountability is pretty critical to using that tool properly. “

Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta said in a statement that a transit police committee includes police commanders, union members and lawyers, working to establish these guidelines. The guidelines will incorporate best practices from regional police forces, including the DC police force, Metro said.

The transit agency has also sent draft guidelines to the Justice Department for review.

Ronal Serpas, a criminology professor at Loyola University who served as police chief for the New Orleans and Nashville police departments, said law enforcement agencies have generally adopted policies calling for the rapid release of video footage.

“There are laws that are different in all parts of the country, and if a prosecutor is prosecuting a case and says, ‘This is the kind of video evidence I need to prosecute the case’ – then it may be that he raises some questions. ‘ Serpas said. “But I think more and more people just err on the side of — just let it go.”

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