Feds roll out $20M police body camera 'pilot program'

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The Obama administration is spending $20 million on police body cameras, amid rising tension over police violence.

The announcement from the Justice Department on Friday would create a new pilot program to equip police in dozens of cities with the devices, as the first step in a $75 million three-year effort that President Obama requested from Congress in December.

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“This body-worn camera pilot program is a vital part of the Justice Department’s comprehensive efforts to equip law enforcement agencies throughout the country with the tools, support and training they need to tackle the 21st century challenges we face,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement shared with media outlets. “Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”

The new push comes days after the worst rioting Baltimore has seen in decades, sparked by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, which has been ruled a homicide.

Use of body cameras has gained traction as a popular check on police power over the last year, amid outrage about multiple deaths of blacks at the hands of officers from Ferguson, Mo., to Cleveland, to Staten Island, N.Y., to Baltimore.  

Bystanders’ videos of many of those events — including the deaths of men at the hands of police in Staten Island and South Carolina — has contributed to the outrage and led to new scrutiny on police officers’ use of lethal force.

Of the money, $17 million would reportedly come in the form of grants for departments to purchase the cameras, while $2 million will go towards training and technical assistance and another $1 million for evaluating the effectiveness of the program.  

One-third of the funding will be dedicated to small law enforcement offices.

In addition to the federal effort, cities from Baltimore to San Francisco to Los Angeles have begun exploring programs of their own to require their police to wear body cameras.

 

— Updated at 11:16 a.m.