LONOKE, Ark. – The debate surrounding body cameras have been rekindled after a 17-year-old in Lonoke County was shot to death by a sheriff’s deputy.
The Lonoke County Sheriff says the deputy, Sergeant Michael Davis, did not have his body camera turned on until after shooting Hunter Brittain. Now, everyone from neighbors to legislators are looking at what should be done about the issue of body cameras and how they’re used throughout the state.
Arkansas does not currently have any laws concerning the use of body cameras; the closest piece of legislation deals with the release of footage after an officer’s death. But Brittain’s killing has re-sparked community and legislative interest in funding and even possibly mandating body camera use as the investigation surrounds the piece of tech.
Representative Vivian Flowers (District 17, D) has previously pushed for laws regarding body cameras, incentivizing their use and studying funding methods for departments across the state. She says their use is critical as it can protect victims as well as officers. “Body cameras have been a protector for officers trying to do their jobs and go home to their families the same way it’s been a protector for citizens,” Flowers said.
But in a report released last fall by the Governor’s Law Enforcement Task Force, only 50% of responding agencies required body cameras.
Flowers says the issue is money, as body cameras are a hefty fee for departments. When LRPD outfitted their officers, it took $760,000. The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office paid $1.2 million for their gear. Half of the cost is what it takes to store footage.
Right now, there is no consistency across the board when it comes to storage servers, where it’s stored, and how. Flowers says that’s one thing that can change. “There have to be policies in place to help municipalities, especially your smaller rural areas, define what that should look like, and it should be consistent throughout the state.”
But what to do about funding? The task force report confirms cost is what’s halting their use in rural communities, but the study’s immediate recommendation is for agencies to apply from grants, either from federal and state organizations, or education institutions. Flowers adds even those are in short supply, saying, “There isn’t any funding statewide, [and] federal funding that existed during the Obama administration was depleted.”
The task force report also advocates for funding legislation to be introduced, with the goal of having all front-line duty officers wearing body cams by 2026.