GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The video showing a Kentwood officer fatally shooting a murder suspect is something the public would not have seen just a few years ago.
The introduction of police dash cameras and body cameras has changed the way we see how officers do their job.
The Grand Rapids Police Department is one of a few law enforcement agencies in Michigan that use body cameras. The only other department in Kent and Ottawa counties that uses them in the Lowell Police Department.
“They’re helpful, but they’re not the end-all, be-all of these situations either, because I could have a body camera here that’s looking over here, but I could be looking over there, so the camera could be catching something I’m not even seeing,” Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said.
The video showing the Kentwood officer shooting the suspect, Lamont Gulley, in April was captured on a GRPD officer’s body camera and cameras in cruisers. Kentwood police do not wear body cameras.
“Would it have been helpful in the sense that you could have seen what Mr. Gulley was saying to them when they were trying to get his to drop the knife and comply? Sure,” Forsyth said. “And it would have been especially helpful to see the angle that the officer saw when he was looking at the dog and the dog handler.”
The decision by GRPD to get body cameras was prompted and encouraged by civil rights leaders, including the Urban League and the Grand Rapids branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“It is about being responsible to the public. It’s about protection on all sides, so not just on the side of civilians, but on the side of law enforcement,” Cle Jackson, the president of the Grand Rapids NAACP, said.
Jackson was shown the video before it was released to the public.
“I’d just say thank God that the officer was wearing that body camera, because if he wasn’t we wouldn’t have some of the footage that we have,” Jackson said.
Grand Rapids attorney and small-town reserve officer Edward Sternisha said the cameras also help police, showing that they have done their job right.
“It’s also helpful for police to defend themselves from accusations,” Sternisha said. “Police shouldn’t resist cameras at all. They should welcome them and put them on more things, really, put them on the back of the car not just the front of the car.”
In that, he and the Kent County prosecutor agree.
“If I were an officer, I would welcome them, to some extent,” Forsyth said.
The NAACP is hoping other agencies will follow GRPD’s lead.
“I’m hoping that the work that we’ve done to date will serve as a boiler plate for other departments,” Jackson said.
For many departments, cost is the biggest factor keeping them from adopting the cameras, but most say they are moving in that direction.