Officer-involved shootings stir debate about the use of police body cameras

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SEATTLE -- The deadly officer-involved shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana stirred a lot of talk and strong emotions across the country, including in Seattle.

“Looking at the video, it’s shocking and hard to imagine how the level of force was justified,” said Shankar Narayan, legislative director for the ACLU-Washington.

The local chapter of the ACLU is questioning the use of deadly force used in both cases.

“What we are trying to do, of course, is to take the systemic steps before these things happen to reduce the chance it will happen,” Narayan said.

Professor Matthew Hickman, who teaches criminal justice at Seattle University, said the solution is not easy.

“The events unfold very rapidly. You have a human officer making a decision under tremendous pressure," he said.

Although the aftermath of the Minnesota shooting is partially caught on camera, Hickman says it’s too early to know exactly what happened.

“I know it’s difficult, but we have to be patient. We can’t rush to judgment. There may be information that was not captured by that after-the-fact video that was pertinent,” Hickman said.

Hickman noted that police departments worldwide are now turning to body cameras as a defense mechanism. The two officers involved in the deadly shooting in Baton Rouge, La., were wearing body cameras, but they reportedly fell off during their struggle with the suspect, who was shot and killed.

“The results are mixed at whether they (body cameras) are effective in reducing use-of-force incidents,” Hickman said.

But Hickman added that body cameras are worth trying out. Even the ACLU chapter in Washington, typically against any surveillance cameras, is open to the idea of police body cameras.

“We support body cameras only with a robust set of rules, which actually gets us accountability,” Narayan said.

Tactical experts say accountability comes from better training.

“I think police officers across the country need to focus more on who their community is and dealing with the public,” said David Aykens, a Mason County resident who has trained local police officers across Western Washington.

Aykens said he cannot speak about the recent officer-involved shootings until all the facts are out, but in general he said there needs to be an emphasis on social interactions -- not just tactical skills.

“Moving away from those tactics and going towards community policing,” Aykens said.

Aykens added that he also wants to see more scenario-based training, which means role-playing with different high-stress situations so officers know how to de-escalate an incident before taking deadly force.