DC police body cam policy altered after deadly shooting goes unrecorded

© Ben Schumin
Body cameras for the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia were already required to be turned on by officers responding to calls and encountering citizens, but a new amendment to the policy was just added following an unrecorded fatal police shooting of a motorcyclist.

“We have given the police officers a new tool. We have to do everything we can to make sure that new tool is being deployed properly,” DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

Announcing the new policy that Metropolitan officers must confirm with dispatch that they have turned their cameras on, the mayor told reporters that the purpose was to address crime in the District of Columbia.

But the news conference also touched on an officer-involved deadly shooting of a motorcyclist that happened early Sunday morning. Terrence Sterling was reported to be driving his motorcycle erratically, and by the end of his ride, he was shot dead by a DC officer. The details differ between official and witness accounts, and questions may persist, as there was no body camera video captured until after the shots were fired.

Police claim Sterling, 31, rammed his motorcycle into one of their vehicles soon after the officer in the passenger seat opened his door and stepped out. That officer, who has yet to be named, opened fire in self-defense, they say.

The driving officer is also unknown, as both have been put on administrative leave.

According to Washington NBC-affiliate WRC, however, there are several witnesses who say the firing officer never opened his door, but instead rolled down his window and shot Sterling from the inside after Sterling crashed. They also say Sterling had never been aiming for the squad car.

Last year, $5 million of DC taxpayer money funded the purchase of 2,500 body cameras. About half, 1,300, have been assigned at this point, and the mayor said Thursday that the rest should be put on by the end of the year.

Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham said at the news conference that officers have turned on their body cameras about 55,000 times, capturing 11,000 hours of video, in the last 30 days. Ten officers had failed to turn theirs on during that time, he said.

That is a pretty good record for a newly enacted policy, but not enough to avoid adding an extra layer of responsibility for officers and dispatchers. And not good enough to prevent another fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man from going unrecorded.