Body Worn Video Steering Group
Two New Mexico police officers were recently charged under suspicion of murder after body worn video cameras filmed them killing a knife-wielding homeless man who was camping in nearby city hills.
Following a stand-off with police 38-year-old homeless man, James Boyd, died in March after he was shot by both non-lethal and lethal weapons, and the target of flash-bang grenades. Camping on the Sandia Mountains that surround Albuquerque is illegal, and was the reason cited for the police response.
Boyd, who was mentally ill, had an extensive criminal record with run-ins with police officers, including assault of an officer, defender Sam Bregman said. Boyd was also wielding two knives.
Footage from a body worn video camera shows officers firing at the man. As the man was face down after being shot, the authorities unleashed a police dog, which was seen mauling the victim’s leg.
The charges come amid public calls for greater numbers of officers to use body worn video, whilst decision-makers and legislators work to establish effective implementation and policy.
During the early days of the technology, body cameras faced being viewed by law officials as a tool to ‘police the police’, whilst the public had growing privacy concerns. In today’s day and age however, proponents from both sides demand body worn video for greater transparency and strength of evidence footage can provide in addition to good old fashioned police work.
Bregman said charging the officers was a “terrible, terrible decision” and that there was “not one shred” of evidence to back the charges. Speaking on behalf of his client, he was “following his training and very likely saved the life of a fellow police officer.” Concerns are expressed over video evidence not being reviewed in light of the preceding context, something widely expected to become a focus of the investigation.
Additionally, use-of-force is also questioned. Many videos show officers shooting a suspect multiple times, known as ‘triple tap’ – shooting 3 times before reassessing the threat, which may seem excessive. Forensic expert Dr Daniel Kennedy says this “It is not at all unusual for officers to fire multiple rounds, once they begin to fire,” noting that bullets don’t always “take immediate effect.”
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said the government’s case would be laid out in open court, before a judge, instead of in secret in front of a grand jury – a vital step forward of which many share her view:
“Unlike Ferguson and unlike in New York City, we’re going to know. The public is going to have that information.”