2016-01-28 / Opinion

Give Police Cameras a Look

Seventy years after Dick Tracy debuted his two-way wrist radio, it seems that our age of ever-advancing technology can create unanticipated scenarios.

And so it is that interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson's recommendation of a pilot police camera program for Newport offices may give one pause.

These are, of course, difficult times in this country. National news reports of street shootings, some of which unavoidably involve police officers on one side of a gun or the other, seem to proliferate by the week.

If nothing else, the record of what happens in these situations, as recorded by police cameras, could help to provide a pathway to the truth when authorities have to sift through available evidence.

Truth is essential. It underscores the way we live, or at least the way we should conduct ourselves, as a law-abiding (mostly) nation.

Nicholson was initially reluctant to recommend the program, and we are sure that this about-face was not easy. The fact that by taking this step Newport would be the first Rhode Island community to embrace even an introductory police camera program makes the issue all the more difficult.

However, communities across the country have begun to look more closely at police cameras as a way to evaluate police actions since the August, 2014, shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

In nearby Massachusetts, a few cities have begun testing the idea, including Boston and Worcester. We believe it's time for Newport to begin to test the waters on this issue.

This is not something that any municipal police department should embrace lightly. And indeed, the Newport Police Department declined to comment on Nicholson's move. But many new ideas have to start with small steps. Pilot programs should be designed to determine, one way or another, whether a new concept should be embraced or discarded.

So it would be, we believe, a way to better ascertain the advantages and drawbacks of police cameras. As of this writing, no council resolution has been put forth for a pilot program. However, several city council members indicated that it could be worth a test.

We agree with that thinking and we urge the council to give the pilot idea serious consideration.

As for the Newport Police Department’s apparent coolness (why else would they refuse to talk about it?), encourage department leaders to give it some thought as well.

The truth, as they say, sets us all free.

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