Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The traffic-stop killing of Samuel DuBose shows the pressing need to adopt police body cams—despite some legitimate privacy concerns.
A police officer at the University of Cincinnati faces murder charges for shooting and killing Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black man, during a traffic stop.
It might have gone another way. After the Hamilton County prosecutor announced the charges on Wednesday, members of DuBose’s family testified to the role of the body camera in securing an indictment against the officer, Ray Tensing. A grand jury would not have returned an indictment against the officer, said Terina Allen, DuBose’s sister, were it not for the body-camera footage.
“We knew the video was going to vindicate our brother,” she said. “I wasn't even really big on video cams, but every day now I'm going to be marching for video cams.”
The family’s emotional press conference followed a scathing presentation by Joe Deters, the Hamilton County prosecutor, during which he said that an arrest warrant had been issued for Tensing. Deters called the shooting “senseless,” “asinine,” and “without a question a murder.” He dismissed Tensing’s assertion that DuBose had dragged him with his car.
The video, which was released to the public today, shows the officer confronting DuBose just after the stop. (The video is below, and is graphic, though the actual shooting is blurred.) The officer indicates that DuBose was driving without a front license plate, but DuBose protests that this isn’t illegal in Cincinnati. (Deters called it “a pretty chicken-crap stop.”) After some back and forth, officer Tensing begins to open DuBose’s door while asking him to take off his seatbelt.
DuBose protests again, but it’s over in an instant: Officer Tensing reaches into the vehicle and shoots DuBose in the face, just as the car speeds ahead in a short burst of acceleration.
Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell, who also reviewed the video, was plain about what it showed. “That video is not good,” he told WCPO, a Cincinnati news station.
Officer Ray Tensing would be 4th police officer charged for on-duty shooting in 2015 (out of 550+ fatal shootings) http://t.co/2bPrbDCjTE— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) July 29, 2015
Tensing’s attorney told The Washington Post that the video shows that the officer feared for his life. Even in a video that appears to be clear cut, the courts will need to decide Tensing’s culpability for the death of DuBose. What the officer’s body cam rather shows is the pressing need to adopt body cameras everywhere, even though legitimate policy concerns remain.
The footage from Tensing’s camera shows that law-enforcement agencies cannot afford to wait to implement body cameras. Neither can city leaders. In Baltimore, the City Council has accused Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration of dragging its heels on the policy. Baltimore officials aim to adopt body cameras over the course of four years.
Outstanding questions on how body cams should be implemented deserve answers. Should police themselves decide who sees the footage—and what parts people see? Should it be as easy to dial up a local law-enforcement body cam as it is to view footage on a traffic cam? What laws will safeguard the privacy rights of officers? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Legitimate policy concerns notwithstanding, we would not have a clear picture of DuBose’s death without the officer’s body-cam footage. The dark suspicions of his family may be right: Without that body camera, we might not have ever discovered the truth.