Following a national reckoning over law enforcement practices, U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., wants to promote transparency in policing by requiring departments that receive certain federal funding to expand body camera use.
Stanton's bill would require state, local and tribal governments seeking funding from the federal COPS grant program, a widely used pool of funds aimed at growing police departments and bolstering community policing, to have a plan in place to require all officers to wear body cameras.
Stanton is aiming to get the COPS Accountability Act of 2020 included in a congressional police reform package, one of the many reform efforts in the works nationally after the police killing of George Floyd.
“As we rethink 21st century policing, we have to make changes that can increase transparency and accountability to make everyone safer,” Stanton, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and a former Phoenix mayor, said in a written statement. “I believe that every police officer on patrol ought to be wearing a body camera. And if departments want federal funds to expand their forces, they should have to prove first that — at a minimum — they’re willing to make that policy a priority.”
Body camera use expanded after Michael Brown was killed in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Missouri, but even after continuing instances of police violence, particularly targeting Black men, broader use of the cameras has yet to be implemented in departments nationwide.
The calls for more body cameras have intensified after weeks of protests across the country demanding actions to end systemic racism and police brutality.
Stanton’s more than six years as mayor of Phoenix in part inspired him to author the proposed law, he said. As mayor, he worked with community leaders for a number of years to push for broader use of body cameras.
The Phoenix Police Department fully rolled out the cameras in August 2019, at the time making Phoenix the last major city in the country not using the cameras widely. With the exception of those who do undercover and investigative work, all officers at the Phoenix Police Department now wear body cameras, spokeswoman Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said.
The bill includes a phased system to usher in broader usage of the cameras, requiring departments applying for the three-year Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) funding to show a plan for increasing body camera use in the first year, followed by a 25% increase in use the second year and 50% in the third year.
The tiered system is designed knowing that most police departments, particularly smaller ones, struggle to fully fund body cameras, Stanton said in an interview.
When he was Phoenix mayor, the Police Department had trouble funding the cameras, he said, but decided to prioritize them in the budget knowing that they would increase safety for the police and the community.
The COPS program was created after the passage of the controversial Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, nicknamed the 1994 crime bill and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.
Nine Arizona police departments received funding from the program in June alone, adding 36 new police officers and securing $4.8 million in funding, according to Stanton’s office. Since 2012, departments throughout Arizona have hired 132 new officers and received more than $17.4 million in COPS funding.
Stanton said he agrees with calls from the public to increase funding for services such as education, after-school care, mental health services and affordable housing.
“I believe that the state of Arizona, which is responsible for education and mental health care and much of affordable housing, (needs) to do a lot more to support this community. And if they do so, there's going to be a lot less need to spend money on police,” he said.
Both the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-led Senate have introduced measures to drastically reform policing. The competing language differs on many major issues, such as qualified immunity for officers, but both the House and Senate bills would incentivize use of body cameras.
Despite the consensus that law-enforcement reform is needed, partisan disagreements have slowed movement on both police bills. The Senate version was blocked from moving to debate and the House version is expected to stall when it moves to the Senate.
Either way, Stanton expects his proposal to attract bipartisan support.
“Both parties are looking for ways to improve the police in America,” Stanton said. “We're not going to all have the same ideas about how to accomplish those goals, but this is a simple one.”