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Police That Don't Use Body Cameras Generate Public Suspicion

When Georgia authorities attempted to clear protesters from forested property near Atlanta in January, to make way for construction of a $90 million police and fire training facility, a confrontation with activists who deride the project as “Cop City” led to a barrage of gunfire. A state trooper was wounded, and officers killed Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, 26, an activist. Months later, the shooting remains under investigation, with the activist’s friends and relatives disputing the police account that Terán fired first, wounding the trooper. Investigators, who turned evidence over to a special prosecutor, say the trooper and other police near the shooting were not wearing body cameras. The lack of video evidence has intensified questions about what happened, and prompted calls for more police agencies to record their actions, reports the New York Times.

“Why they didn’t use cameras, I don’t know,” said the activist’s mother, Belkis Terán, who has called for an investigation of the death to be conducted independently of the Georgia authorities. “I don’t trust them,” she said. Rare a decade ago, police-worn body cameras have been more widely adopted after the fatal 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo. In some cases, police forces began using them as a result of federal civil rights investigations. They have become an important tool both for police investigations and for efforts to hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct. “You’re introducing a level of evidence that is able to produce a better outcome,” said Volkan Topalli, a criminology professor at Georgia State University. Topalli has contributed to research indicating that, compared with police departments that do not use the cameras, those that do face fewer public complaints, and their investigators clear more cases. The rapid adoption of body cameras, especially by departments in many large cities, has led to a greater public expectation that law enforcement actions will be caught on camera — and greater suspicion when they are not.

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