D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced Thursday that all uniformed patrol officers in the District are now equipped with body cameras, completing a rollout that started small in 2014 and grew to become one of the mayor’s signature programs.
Bowser (D) said 2,600 cameras are deployed throughout the District, attached to officers’ collars or shirts. The mayor said the District “leads the nation” with the highest number of officers with body cameras.
At an afternoon roll call in the 1st District station, interim D.C. police chief Peter Newsham told officers that the program is successful in large part because officers supported it. “You all wanted to wear these body cameras,” he said, appearing along with Bowser at the station in Southwest Washington. “You wanted everyone to see what you do.”
Bowser said the program “underscores our commitment to transparency and accountability in police-resident engagements.”
Over the past two years, police in the District have recorded more than 500,000 videos with 100,000 hours of footage. In addition, officials said the force is part of an academic study reviewing the impact of the cameras on policing.
District officials also used the moment to promote crime statistics that show an 8 percent drop in violent crime compared with this time in 2015. As of Dec. 14, homicides were down 17 percent — from 155 as of this date in 2015 to 128 so far this year. Police said that this year, robberies are down 13 percent, burglaries down 16 percent and car thefts down 16 percent. Assaults with dangerous weapons, which includes shootings, are down 4 percent.
The body-worn camera initiative started as a pilot program in September 2014 with 165 officers in a handful of districts. It was launched by former mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Cathy L. Lanier, the former police chief.
The $5.1 million program expanded to 1,300 officers in late 2015 and is now at 2,600, representing the uniformed patrol force. Detectives and plainclothes units are not equipped with cameras.
Many police departments across the country have adopted body-worn cameras, in part to address concerns of accountability and to ensure that there is a public record of interactions involving officers, including ones that end with deaths in police custody.
Debates remain over when officers should be required to turn the cameras on and whether and when the public has a right to see the recordings. Bowser tried to make body camera recordings exempt from the public-records act but settled on a more open policy. The department has released a handful of recordings, including one from a police-involved shooting and another that showed private security guards subduing a man who later died.
Officials have also said the body camera recordings have been used to discipline officers. On Sept. 11, an officer failed to turn on his body camera until after he fired his gun in a confrontation with motorcyclist Terrence Sterling, who was killed.
District police then required officers to confirm with dispatchers that they had turned on their cameras when they respond to a call or interact with citizens. The shooting of Sterling remains under investigation.