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Some of Metro Detroit’s largest police departments still aren’t using body cameras

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Posted at 5:22 PM, Sep 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-14 18:24:21-04

(WXYZ) — Amidst a national reckoning on police accountability, some of the largest police agencies in southeast Michigan are still not employing body cameras.

Unlike dash cameras that only look in one direction, body cameras see what an officer sees, and they’ve proven to be a critical tool in holding officers accountable.

Through the years, they’ve documented countless cases of police brutality across the country and in Michigan, but they can just as easily prove that police acted right.

In July, protests in Detroit turned violent after posts on social media claimed that officers and killed an unarmed man. But body camera footage, released after officers on the scene were pelted with bottles and rocks, proved that police were fired upon first.

“Body cams are a best practice,” said Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. “They keep citizens safer. They keep officers safer. And when we have more information, the better.”

Six years ago, Irwin introduced legislation that would have required every police agency in Michigan to put body cameras on its officers.

The bill failed, but many large departments began implementing them anyway.

Detroit Police became the largest agency in the state to fully deploy body cameras in 2017. The Macomb and Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office introduced them too, along with Dearborn, Livonia and Ann Arbor Police.

But sizable departments throughout Michigan have resisted, either over concerns about cost, privacy or implementation.

In Macomb County, you won’t find them on officers in Warren, Sterling Heights and St. Clair Shores.

There are no body cams at the Dearborn Heights Police Department or the entire Wayne County Sheriff’s Office which patrols Westland, Inkster, Detroit and four other cities

In Oakland County, Farmington Hills, Novi and the entire Oakland County Sheriff’s Office don’t use them either. The Sheriff alone polices 15 different communities, including Rochester Hills and Pontiac.

Deirdre Waterman is Pontiac’s mayor, and says she’s told Sheriff Michael Bouchard she wants his deputies to wear body cameras when policing her city.

“He rejects them because they already have car cams, and he has certain privacy concerns about body cams and also funding issues about body cams.”

Bouchard insists he’s not trying to shield his deputies from scrutiny, but has greater concerns about privacy.

“I love cameras for police accountability,” he said. “I hate cameras because they intrude on your privacy.”

Bouchard says he’s concerned that a body cameras might capture too much, like citizens in embarrassing or private situations that could be made public.

“I want to do body cameras, but I’m uneasy about violating the privacy of our citizens,” he said.

But three years ago, then Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a whole host of privacy exemptions just for body cameras, protecting crime victims and exempting records that would invade someone’s personal privacy.

The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, which allows for citizens to request public records from local and state government, also includes a list of privacy exemptions.

“These concerns have been raised and they’ve been answered,” said Senator Irwin, who also added: "I think that the departments that haven’t done it, they just don’t want to do it.”

The largest police force in the state—Michigan State Police—has less than 150 body cameras, reserved only for specialized units. But the department’s 1,600 troopers, don’t have them, according to a spokesman, because MSP says they don’t have the $5 to $6 million needed to fund them.

But plenty of departments have found a way. Just last month, Southfield’s police chief Elvin Barren announced a $1.5 million body camera program.

“It should have happened years ago,” Barren said to reporters.

Today, a handful of departments 7 Action News contacted say they are planning to institute body cameras by the end of the year.

Warren, Waterford and Farmington Hills all say they hope to put body cameras on their officers in the coming months.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said his office will “probably” have them in the coming months. By e-mail, Undersheriff Mike McCabe said the sheriff’s office is “moving down that path” towards body cameras and is about to test a pilot program for its deputies who patrol Pontiac.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.