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Our view: Body cams needed for East Grand Forks officers

Herald editorial board

A Cambridge University study released in 2016 showed the number of complaints by the public against law-enforcement officers in the United Kingdom fell 93 percent in one year after officers began wearing body cameras.

The findings of the research showed 113 complaints against officers during the trial year period, down from 1,539 the year before. No other policing measure came close to such radical changes, according to the lead researcher on that project.

And a 2012 Cambridge study of a department in Rialto, Calif., showed reports against officers dropped by 87 percent over one year, and use-of-force by officers fell by more than 50 percent. That study also claimed that for every dollar a department invests in cameras, it saves $4 in litigation.

This is important data because local police departments in our region are gaining a better understanding of the important role body cams play in everyday police work. The devices — which record the point-of-view perspective of the officer who wears one — already are being used in cities like Grand Forks and Devils Lake. In East Grand Forks, officers aren't yet equipped with cameras, but Chief of Police Michael Hedlund wants them.

Just one problem: Funding.

A report in Wednesday's Herald outlined how the East Grand Forks department recently received a quote from WatchGuard, a company that provides mobile video equipment for police. The cost was just out of reach for the department's budget, meaning body cams won't be purchased in the near future.

The price for five in-vehicle cameras and eight officer body cameras came to $40,520. That was about right for the budget, Hedlund said, but another $4,000 to $6,000 would be needed for software, computers and other subsidiary — yet necessary — equipment.

So for the lack of about $5,000, give or take, East Grand Forks Police Department officers won't be equipped with body cameras — at least for the time being.

This is unfortunate. There's nobody to blame, because the budget is set.

However, we suggest residents of East Grand Forks voice their opinion on this in hopes of finding money in upcoming budgets for what we feel is a necessary and vital piece of equipment for all law-enforcement officers.

When a public hearing was held on this issue in East Grand Forks, nobody attended. Nor did anyone provide comments via the mail or email. Maybe that's a good thing, since nobody voiced opposition. In absence of vocal public support, we give ours.

Body cams eventually can pay for themselves, because frivolous lawsuits and appeals can be quickly extinguished with video evidence — as shown in the aforementioned Cambridge studies. Too, body cams can reduce wrongdoing or inappropriate actions by officers.

We hope East Grand Forks is soon successful in outfitting its officers with this important piece of equipment.