Few incidents illustrate why it is vital that police
wear body cameras than the botched drug raid that left two residents of a
Harding Street home dead and four Houston officers wounded.
Investigators are still trying to determine what went wrong
, but there is no video to help them
because officers weren’t wearing cameras.
Police Chief Art Acevedo says that although patrol officers had cameras
at the time, the department hadn’t yet implemented a plan to equip SWAT
officers and those serving warrants. HPD has since expedited that plan.
even if the whole force is issued cameras, there are some circumstances
where officers wouldn’t be allowed to wear them: joint operations with
local police are banned from wearing body cameras during any operation
conducted by joint task forces involving the Drug Enforcement
Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives, or the FBI. The Justice Department says body
cameras could reveal “sensitive or tactical methods used in arresting violent fugitives or conducting covert investigations.”
It seems unlikely that body cameras would reveal any “tactical method” you wouldn’t see watching “SWAT”
on TV. But even if they did, the federal agencies are missing the
point. They aren’t the KGB or any other secret police force. This is
America, where police operations for the most part are public record.
That’s so taxpayers are assured that justice is served on their behalf,
and so police are protected from scurrilous charges.
a point Acevedo stresses as head of the Major Cities Chiefs
Association, which has asked federal law enforcement agencies to lift
their bans against body cameras. The association represents 69 of the
nation’s largest police and sheriffs’ departments, including the Atlanta
Police Department, which has decided it won’t participate in any more joint task forces until the ban is removed.
Acevedo said other cities, including
Houston, may join Atlanta in pulling officers from joint task forces,
but he hopes that can be avoided. “We have spoken to the FBI agent in
charge here and through the Major Cities Chiefs Association have been in
touch with the attorney general and the director of the FBI,” he told
the editorial board. “Federal agents at the operations level understand
why body cameras are important. We need to get their agencies’ leaders
chief said Houston officers might have been wearing body cameras during
the Harding Street raid if a policy change under consideration had been
implemented. “We had focused on equipping our patrol officers with
cameras but were moving toward equipping SWAT officers and anyone
serving warrants with cameras as well,” he said.
Tuttle and his wife, Rhogena Nicholas, were killed during the Jan. 28
shootout that began when narcotics officers burst into their home
looking for heroin dealers. Two officers involved in the raid, Gerald
Goines and Steven Bryant, have since retired. The FBI is conducting a
civil rights investigation. Harris County prosecutors have been probing
how warrants for the raid were obtained.
said he was at the Harding Street house almost immediately after the
shooting occurred and got firsthand accounts from officers, but wishes
video were available. He said Houston SWAT officers should have body
cameras in four to six weeks, when specific mounting devices for their
uniforms are available.
chief pointed out that the Justice Department still provides grants to
help local police departments buy body cameras, which makes the federal
law enforcement ban of the devices ironic as well as unwise. “When a
life is taken, especially in today’s environment, whether it was in the
best or worst of conditions, it’s best to have the record that a body
camera can provide,” said Acevedo.
He’s right. Police have shot and killed 437 people nationally this year, which is below last year’s pace, when 992 fatalities occurred. Four people have been killed by Houston police
this year, compared with seven fatalities total in 2018. While the
circumstances surrounding each death vary, there should be one constant
anytime an officer uses deadly force: a clear record of the incident,
enforcement must make sure the truth is revealed — for the victims, for
the officers, and for the public. You would think the Justice
Department would know that.