Justice Department to grant funding to small law enforcement agencies for body-camera programs

(David McNew/Getty Images)

The Bureau of Justice Assistance, a crime prevention program within the US Department of Justice, will pledge $7.65 million to body-worn camera programs within small law enforcement agencies, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The funds will be granted to any law enforcement agency with 50 or fewer full-time employees, as well as any rural agency or federally recognized Tribal agency. The department said the money must be used for “expenses reasonably related to BWC program implementation,” including the purchasing or leasing of body cameras, pilot programs, or the expansion of already-existing programs.

The topic of body cameras has long been a hot-button issue in the law enforcement community, with some being the crucial link to determining specific details of police shootings. Since not every department has them, some citizens feel left in the dark. With the Justice Department’s new announcement, officials are hopeful the development can help bridge the gap between police and the communities they serve.

“The grant solicitation today will help law enforcement agencies and their communities improve evidentiary outcomes, and enhance the safety of, and improve interactions between, officers and the public,” Kristen Mahoney, the acting director of the BJA, said in a statement. “Importantly, this grant program will make it easier for small, rural and Tribal law enforcement agencies to apply for funding. It’s an online application that will streamline the grant process for these agencies.”

Police officers serving without body cameras can hinder both parties involved in police shootings, which are often tense situations with a fair amount of misinformation that swirls immediately afterward. A teenager in Arkansas was recently shot at a traffic stop by a small-town officer who didn’t turn his body camera on until after the shooting was over. The incident has proven to be yet another dividing force between civilians and police officers.

A friend of the teen, Hunter Brittain, said Brittain got out of his truck to place a jug of antifreeze behind the wheel in an effort to stop it from rolling backward when Sgt. Michael Davis, now fired, shot him.

“They didn’t say one word that I know of. I didn’t hear it and it happened so fast,” Brittain’s friend told KATV.

The Lonoke County Sheriff, John Staley, said in a statement that the Arkansas State Police are investigating the matter, and stressed his commitment to transparency.

“Because we aren’t handling the investigation, we don’t know how much of the incident was captured by the camera,” he said. “As sheriff, I’m committed to transparency. That’s why I will support the public release of body camera footage when the law and state police investigation allow.”

Applications for the Justice Department’s grant program are due by August 31, 2021. If a department is still interested in receiving assistance for body cameras but is not a small, rural, or tribal law enforcement agency, they can apply under the FY 2021 Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program to Support Law Enforcement Agencies. Grant solicitation for that program closes on July 12, with the DOJ planning to award over $27 million in grants.

“The Justice Department is committed to providing law enforcement with valuable resources to increase accountability and build trust with the communities they serve,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release. “Today we encourage all small, rural and Tribal law enforcement agencies to apply for funding for this important tool that will enhance protection for both officers and citizens.”

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