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US Police Increase Use of Body Cameras

Police officers in Washington, DC, and New York City are wearing cameras on their bodies as part of a test. The goal of the program is to reduce the use of force by officers and lower the number of criticisms from citizens. But officers in those big American cities are not the first to wear body cameras. Police in many smaller communities are already doing so.

Thirty-two police officers on the Laurel, Maryland police force wear a body camera. Officer Zachary Barry wears his while he patrols with his dog.

“The camera here on my sunglasses. They also make a headband to go around your head if it’s nighttime and that’s exactly what takes the video and it has the microphone.”

The police department in Laurel was the first in the Washington, DC area to use body cameras. Richard McLaughlin is the chief of the Laurel police.

“It is not only a protection for the officers -- its protection for the general public as a whole. It holds people more accountable.”

Police officers in Laurel have been wearing body cameras for the last two years. Chief McLaughlin says the devices protect citizens from illegal use of force by police. But he says they also protect police from false charges, and gives them evidence of illegal acts by citizens.

“Our uses of force have decreased, complaints have decreased. The video is a rebuttal for the police -- it’s a rebuttal for the general public. It holds people more accountable. It changes attitudes and it makes people more responsible.”

The shooting death of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in August renewed interest in body cameras. Many people in the city demanded to know exactly what happened. Now, some Ferguson police officers are wearing cameras.

But people across the country have mixed feelings about them -- including this woman, who lives in Laurel, Maryland.

“If it is a situation and it's gonna, really bring it to the forefront what really happened, then yes, I am for it.”

This man also lives in Laurel.

“I think body cameras are a good thing to wear. I think it is protection for both the police force and the citizens.”

Another resident does not support the cameras.

“A lot of times I think it is invasion of privacy.”

Body cameras are used by more than 1,000 U.S. police departments. When they are in public, police officers tell people they are being recorded, but are not required to get permission. But inside homes or businesses, officers must ask permission to keep the camera turned on.

In addition to Washington and New York, police are also testing the use of body cameras in the midwestern American city of Indianapolis, Indiana. One officer in the city says the cameras provide information if there is a dispute with a citizen.

“A citizen sometimes files a complaint. Again with no video evidence it is the officer’s word against the citizen. Well, now we have a third, impartial view of what happened.”

Police officers throughout the country hope the devices will improve the relationship between them and the citizens they promise to protect and serve.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA Correspondent Chris Simkins reported this story from Laurel, Maryland. Jonathan Evans wrote it for Learning English. Christopher Cruise edited it.


Words in This Story

camera n. a device for taking pictures or video

dispute v. to oppose strongly by argument; n. an angry debate

evidence n. material or facts that prove something; a reason for believing

renewv. to make (something) new, fresh, or strong again

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