It's been more than five years since civil unrest erupted in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of an 18-year-old African-American man by a white police officer.
That August 2014 incident and several other officer-involved shootings sparked a national debate about accountability measures for police officers.
Former Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper's administrative team started studying the issue long before Ferguson became the focal point of police behavior, but shortly after the Ferguson shooting, GJPD recommended local patrol officers be issued body-worn cameras by 2016.
Camper left Grand Junction to head up the Colorado Bureau of Investigation before GJPD made headway on the body cameras. His successor, Chief Doug Shoemaker, began discussions with his team on implementing body-worn cameras when he arrived in 2018.
Quickly — and quietly —Shoemaker's department made body-worn cameras a reality. Last week, the Sentinel's Alex Zorn outlined the type of cameras that all GJPD uniformed officers have been wearing for the past few months and the policy that guides their use.
We've long thought body-worn cameras are a good idea. Camper speculated that they'll be mandated at some point, so investing in the technology is probably a wise move.
More importantly, they're a catalyst for safer interactions between police and the public. Officers and those who come into contact with police are less likely to escalate tensions when everyone knows their actions are being recorded.
The cameras protect everyone. They allow the department to be transparent, which goes a long way toward establishing good will with the public.
Cost is always a stumbling block. The GJPD has budgeted roughly $600,000 to cover the cost of the body-worn cameras for five years, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. The department pays for licensing, cloud-based storage for digital video files and, this year, expenses related to setting up the system and training officers.
That's money well-spent. The investment should quickly pay for itself in the number of frivolous lawsuits it prevents. Cameras prevent baseless allegations of racism, bullying or disproportionate police response.
Cameras ensure police officers are doing what they're supposed to be doing. Captured footage can aid prosecution efforts and help with officer training. It's another way transparency works for the public good.