Opelousas PD equipping officers with body cams

by Patrick Flanagan

In a few days, the Opelousas PD will join a growing number of the nation’s law enforcement agencies to embrace the use of body cameras.

The technology has caught on like wild fire, especially in the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of an officer in Ferguson, Mo. over the summer. Almost immediately after Brown’s death, officers of the Ferguson PD started wearing the cams, kick-starting an already developing trend among the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

Yet in Acadiana, the number of agencies using cams are far outnumbered by those that don’t. In Lafayette, the PD and sheriff’s office are still in the testing phases — meaning only a handful of officers are actually wearing the cams — leaving the City Marshal’s office as the only agency within the parish to have all of its officers wearing the devices.

The city marshal’s deputies aren’t alone however, as several other Acadiana agencies, including the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Eunice PD, have also implemented body cam programs over the last year. And according to this report by The Daily Advertiser, the Opelousas PD will also soon join those ranks.

“These cost $400 each,” Police Chief Perry Gallow tells The Advertiser. “It is costly, but funding shouldn’t be an issue when you are talking about the safety of the public. This will help in so many ways. First and foremost is safety for the officer and the general public.”

It‘s unclear whether the Opelousas PD has implemented or plans to implement a policy governing the use of the cams, which according to most critics, including the ACLU, is the biggest issue surrounding the new technology; the ACLU is also a major advocate for equipping officers with cams, as long as there‘s a thorough policy attached to their use.

Gallow says his decision to acquire the cams — the department will purchase 30 cams to equip all of its patrol officers — is a direct result of all the backlash resulting from the recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York City against indicting officers involved in citizen deaths.

Gallow’s decision also comes after President Barack Obama’s announcement on Monday to provide $263 million to help provide body cams nationwide.

Along with helping the nation’s law enforcement agencies purchase body cams, the federal funds — which would require matching state funds —  will also go toward “training and outreach programs targeted at building better trust between law enforcement and their communities.”

According to this report from The Hill:

The $263 million for cameras and training would be used by the federal government to match up to 50 percent spending by state and local police departments on body-worn cameras and storage for the equipment. The White House estimates that aspect of the program, which would cost $75 million, would help fund the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras.

According to a 2008 census conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there’s about 765,000 full-time sworn officers throughout the nation, and 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies.

Obama’s funding, in essence, would provide about $10,000 per agency for the purchase of cams.

For more on the use of cams among local agencies, and our argument for why this needs to become a reality among all Acadiana law enforcement agencies, check out our November cover story "The Case for Cams."