Amid the rash of unfortunate events involving police behavior in our nation, community groups such as the Houston Justice Coalition (HoustonJustice.Org) began a movement advocating for justice in Houston and Harris County. As a part of their progressive activism, they applied loving pressure on public officials such as Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, Houston City Council, Mayor Annise Parker, and HPD Chief Charles McClelland, asking all to implement body worn cameras on law enforcement within their respective jurisdictions.
It is tough to decipher whether the town hall meetings and nudging from the Houston Justice Coalition is directly responsible, but Houstonians are pleased to see these leaders have stepped up and made the initial steps necessary to make our streets and citizens safer. As one can see by the pictures above, DA Anderson made good on a promise and wrote the checks totaling $1.9 million dollars to the Houston Police Department, as well as the Harris County Sheriff's Office to buy body worn cameras.
With all this buzz surrounding body worn cameras in the Houston/Harris County area, one Houston area lawmaker has decided to answer the call for public safety in Austin. Texas State Representative Ron Reynolds (D-27.Missouri City), has filed legislation in the 84th Session of the Texas Legislature requiring all state law enforcement agencies to equip their officers with body worn cameras. HB 474 (Read Here) is a common sense solution to a very complex issue of community policing and police accountability. Concerned citizens should call their respective lawmakers to urge their support of HB 474. (Who Represents Me?)
Recently, different studies have emerged from academic spaces regarding the effect of body worn cameras in urban areas. One particular study (A Report on Body Worn Cameras) by Eugene P. Ramirez, highlights the nexus between savings and safety in implementing body worn cameras in law enforcement agencies. Body worn cameras on officers save taxpayers money, save legal hours in frivolous investigations, and saves lives, which further cements the importance of the work by the Houston Justice Coalition and Rep. Ron Reynolds. Dr. Michael O. Adams and Carroll G. Robinson, professors at Texas Southern University's Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, write in their latest column (More Data Needed on Police Body Cameras) that despite the few studies revealing the effects of body worn cameras, more detailed research is needed and more questions need to be answered. Adams and Robinson asks us to consider the impact body worn cameras will have on citizens' privacy rights, the training related to shifting the existing paradigm, and costs. They implore our governments to assess and implement in a very cautionary manner to ensure long term success.
Everything in our society now has become trendy. Everyone wants to be on the forefront of the next trend to be acknowledged and to garner attention, for whatever reason. As many groups, churches, and individuals hold forums, protests, and express outrage in the last several months about police brutality and community policing, there have been two law enforcement gurus who have been warning us about the issues we face today BEFORE IT BECAME FASHIONABLE (Brown: Community policing lowers crime, prevents police brutality). Those clairvoyant leaders are Mayor Lee Brown and Chief/Council Member C.O. Bradford. Before the packed town halls, before the fancy community forums, before the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" chants, before the "Die-In's" on college campuses, and before the timely investigative journalism stories, Mayor Brown and Council Member Bradford have been pleading with Houstonians, City Council, and other city/state leaders to properly evaluate the complex and explosive issue of community policing and cultural competence (A wake-up call for Houston). If Houston Police Officers were given incentives to live in certain communities, would that eradicate the shootings of unarmed African American men? Of the 45 captains in HPD only 1 is African American (Community leaders call on HPD to improve diversity). Is that the root of the issue?
Our nation is at the crossroads of moral obligation and political calculation. Will we have the courage to change a grand jury system in Harris County that has allowed cops to go home and sip tea 289 consecutive times (A disturbing glimpse into the shrouded world of the Texas grand jury system) after shooting/killing an unarmed citizen? Will we rest on our laurels in our comfortable spaces and ivory towers and allow another racially profiled African American male like Jordan Baker (Houston officer cleared in fatal shooting) to be murdered in cold blood by a law enforcement officer? Or will we respond the the fierce urgency of now by listening to cries for help from the disadvantaged and oppressed?
Are our actions fueled by and rooted in an unselfish type of love that transcends race, class, and gender? Is every step cloaked in political gain and narcissism?
Those questions must be answered honestly within the dark precincts of our own souls. We must also answer the most important query: WHEN WILL THE MADNESS END?