Body Worn Video Steering Group
After the recent shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers reporter’s questions about the incident, and body worn video in general.
Q: Josh, has the President seen the video of the police officer in South Carolina shooting at a fleeing black man? And what is his response and message to the protesters there?
MR. EARNEST: I have not spoken to the President about this issue. I would not be surprised, however, given the amount of media attention that this issue has received, that the President is obviously aware of it and has seen the video.
There’s not a whole lot that I can say about it, because the FBI is investigating this situation, as are our local enforcement officials. I can tell you that the reaction from others that I have talked to around the White House today is that the video is awfully hard to watch, and I think that is the kind of human response that we’ve seen from people all across the country.
I think the other thing that came to my mind and I think that came to the minds of others who have been focused on this issue over the last year or so is the impact that this video evidence appears to have had on the investigation; that I think even the investigators themselves have acknowledged that when this video evidence was presented, that it changed the way that they were looking at this case. And I do think that is an example of how body cameras worn by police officers could have a positive impact in terms of building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that they serve.
And again, that’s for a couple of reasons. One is, because obviously this video evidence in this case was very helpful. Again, based on the accounts of the investigators themselves, the video evidence has benefited their investigation. There’s also some academic evidence to indicate that the use of body cameras actually is correlated closely with a pretty significant decline in the number of violent incidents; that police officers wearing body cameras are less likely to get involved in any violent confrontation when they’re wearing those cameras.
So this is obviously an issue that the administration has been focused on. There is a community policing initiative grant for $75 million that we announced earlier this year that would help law enforcement agencies across the country implement policies related to body cameras. And I saw just before I walked out here that the mayor of North Charleston said that that city was considering — or is going to move forward on a policy that would require their officers to wear body cameras.
Q: Back to the shooting. You mentioned the grants that the administration announced last year on body cameras. What’s the status of those grants? Have they been distributed? And how is that going?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t have an update in terms of the specific status. These were existing programs where they were going to use some of the money to invest in this particular body camera initiative. These are funding streams that are maintained by the Department of Justice, so I’d refer you to them for a more detailed assessment about where that stands right now.
Q: You said it wouldn’t be a panacea. Do you think more money needs to be made available?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there certainly is reason to be optimistic about the positive impact that more police officers wearing body cameras could have. We also, as a part of the announcement about additional funding for body cameras, we announced some funding to actually study the impact of body cameras. The early evidence is positive in that it does seem to indicate or, as I mentioned, correlate with fewer violent confrontations between police officers and members of the community. But this is something that merits additional study and it’s something that’s also funded in the proposal that we put forward at the end of last year.
Q: Lastly, the White House has really gotten involved in these cases with the body cameras, the additional funds for community policing, looking at how certain types of equipment go to local communities… I think it’s easy to say there are no black officers on this or that department, but it seems like finding them repeatedly is a big issue. Is that something that you’re looking at, or how could that be addressed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I’m certainly no expert in this issue, but that seems like a very legitimate concern to be raised. And I do feel confident in telling you that policy-makers inside the administration do believe that the effectiveness of our law enforcement organizations are enhanced when they are diverse and they reflect the population that they are sworn to serve and to protect.
So I’ll see if I can get you some more on this, but this is — the concern that has been raised seems like a legitimate one and one that seems worthy of some consideration.
Q: Is that something that the White House has also been focused on in this effort that you’ve been making and have you identified that as a problem?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people who have been looking at this issue have.
So I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks that that is a panacea; it certainly isn’t. But it certainly, as least in this situation, is a good example of how it could certainly help.
(Questions asked by various reporters – Click here to read full transcript)