WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Department of Justice is launching a $20 million pilot program funding body cameras for police officers in the wake of renewed protests over police treatment of minorities.
It’s a rare concrete step towards criminal justice reform from the administration, and it comes as Americans are taking to the streets to speak out against yet another case in which an African American man died in police custody under controversial circumstances.
The program would award $20 million in as many 50 grants for police departments to buy the cameras and train officers on their use, with about a third of the funds going to small law enforcement agencies. Officials have also allocated $1 million for the Bureau of Justice Statistics to develop a program to study the impact of the cameras.
Critics say President Barack Obama hasn’t taken enough action to respond to issues with law enforcement.
While the White House launched a policing task force earlier this year, in response to initial protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the panel didn’t recommend the use of body cameras in its report proposing reforms to law enforcement. But camera footage has proved pivotal in a number of recent controversial incidents involving police, including the death of South Carolinian Walter Scott at the hands of a white police officer. That officer was charged with murder after an eyewitness video caught him firing multiple shots at Scott’s back as he turned and ran from police.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the program a “vital part of the Justice Department’s comprehensive efforts to equip law enforcement agencies throughout the country with the tools, support, and training they need to tackle the 21st century challenges we face.”
“Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve,” she added in a statement.
And on Friday, the program drew early praise from Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, who called it “super great,” but said “we need even more” reforms.
“[Body cameras] are a protection for the police and the public. When they know that someone’s looking at what they’re doing, it makes a difference,” he told CNN’s “New Day”.
“It’s not gonna solve all the problems, but it makes a difference.”