In the Public Eye

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By Joseph L. Giasullo

The trend of viral videos has extended to capture those sworn to protect and serve. Hartford Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings has been at the forefront of the movement advocating body camera implementation for the city’s police officers following the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. She claims Hartford has the makings for a similar outbreak and body cameras may help to prevent such a tragedy.

“No one wants to see their city go up in flames,” says Councilwoman Jennings. She believes body cameras will improve the relationship between the public and police by promoting an understanding between the two and keeping both parties truthful under an ever-watchful eye.

Given the recent exposure of what has been considered by activists to be nationwide racial brutality against young, black men, Hartford joins a growing list of cities proposing body cameras for law enforcement. Advocates hope the change will mitigate the potential for racial bias and violence, as evidenced in Rialto, California, where “the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%” in the first year of implementing body cameras, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Some insist that the new footage may be taken out of context and used against law enforcement to provoke activism against police, but Councilwoman Jennings quickly dismissed these allegations by claiming there has been and will always be a divide between the public and the police. She says, “The more evidence you have the more speculation there will be,” but accusations will prove to be more harmful for police if they go without the body cameras.

Councilwoman Jennings is working with Hartford Police Chief James Rovella and the rest of the Hartford Police Department on drafting her recent financial proposal, which includes President Obama’s national 75 million dollar funding for 50,000 body cameras among different sources. She says Chief Rovella has been an advocate for the cameras. “We need people like that, who have a humane approach to law enforcement.”

In calling for a healthy relationship between police and the public, Councilwoman Jennings discussed a sense of community essential for the building blocks of trust. She recalled a moment from this recent winter when snow covered every bit of her sidewalk and steps. While driving by, police officers stopped at her house to grab shovels and help her clear off the rest of her sidewalk. “That’s the understanding we need to have of our police force.”

Hartford Police have willingly invested some of their own money in body cameras and hope to get them out onto the streets as soon as possible to fall in line with national demands. Although advocates of the proposal have yet to come to terms with the Hartford Police union over costs and proper storage of the videos, Councilwoman Jennings is confident that all sides can come to an agreement. She stresses, “We’re talking about being fair with everyone.” The result should create a middle ground of transparency that the public has long wanted and the police have long needed.

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