Dozens speak in favor of GRPD body cameras at city commission meeting

Posted at 11:06 PM, Dec 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-02 23:46:26-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- More than two dozen people spoke in favor of Grand Rapids police officers wearing body cameras at Tuesday night's city commission meeting, which had a standing room only crowd.

Though the issue wasn't on the meeting agenda, the non-profit group LINC Community Revitalization organized a group to attend and speak about the issue as part of their #OperationBodyCamGRMI initiative.

No decision was made, but city leaders are promising "swift action," calling this a "moment full of opportunity."

The idea of outfitting police officers with body cameras has picked up steam in the recent months following the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white officer in Ferguson, Mo.

Among the main arguments of body camera proponents: accountability, both for police and the public.

"The thinking tonight was we needed the community's voice to be put into policy," said Darel Ross, co-founder of LINC.

"Right now we have a justice system that appears to not be working at times, and we have technology that could bridge the gap, and we want citizens to inform that process."

Of the roughly 25-30 people who spoke during public remarks, none were in opposition to police wearing body cameras. Several speakers shared their own stories of either being racially profiled by police officers or fearing officers rather than looking to them people who would protect them.

"I come to you today saying I'm too strong to stand down to police that do me wrong," said Michael Scruggs, chairman  of the Kent County Black Caucus. "I have had them do me wrong, so maybe these cameras will keep me alive or keep somebody I know alive."

Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky has spoken out publicly against putting body cameras on his officers, citing concerns over lack of privacy and the fact the footage could be made available to any member of the public through the Freedom of Information Act. Speaking to reporters after the meeting Tuesday night, Rahinsky said he still had concerns about implementing the technology.

"I don’t think I ever expressed I was opposed, I expressed reservations based on lack of study," he said. "I appreciate the community coming forward and as being as forthcoming as they were.”

Commissioners voted Tuesday night to set a formal public hearing on the issue for Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. at City Hall. A vote on the issue could come as early as mid-January, according to City Manager Greg Sundstrom.