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Violence In Ferguson Spurs Interest In Police Body Cams

LOWELL, Mich. (AP) - The police department in the western Michigan city of Lowell is among several around the state that are reporting positive results from the routine use of body video recorders for their officers.

Interest in body cams has grown since the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, where police and witness accounts have differed over the circumstances that led to an officer's fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Body cam backers say a recording could have determined the truth.

So far, only a minority of U.S. police agencies use body-worn cameras. The U.S. Justice Department says an informal survey found fewer than a quarter of departments had them in 2013. That's likely to change, according to Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs' Association.

"I think it's a natural evolution from the dash cam," Jungel told the Detroit Free Press. "This way, you see what the officer experiences, right or wrong.

"It gives the public a little more (information) on consequences of actions, why we got to where we got," Jungel added.

In Lowell, a city of 3,900 about 15 miles east of Grand Rapids, officers have routinely worn the body cams for about a year. Marquette and Newaygo police also use them, and they're being tested by Detroit, Michigan State Police and the Macomb County sheriff's office.

Before getting out of his patrol car, Lowell detective Gordy Lauren said he activates the camera clipped to the front of his bulletproof vest. He said the video recording helps him write his reports and can help prosecutors and defense lawyers know what happened in an incident.

He said Missouri authorities could benefit from having a video recording of Brown's shooting.

"Right now, there are three to four sides of the story," Lauren said. "Either way, I think it would have helped the situation."

The American Civil Liberties Union generally supports police use of body cams, as long as there are policies to protect unwarranted invasion of privacy of the officers and the public, said Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan.

"Cameras have the potential to be a win-win in that they not only protect the public against police misconduct, they also help the police against false accusations of abuse," Steinberg said.

Defense lawyer Bruce Block said he is handling his first criminal case in which police used a body cam. A Lowell officer was wearing a body cam while searching the home of Block's client and found what police say was an illegal marijuana operation.

"I have mixed feelings about it, to be honest," Block said. "You're going into a man's house, a man's castle. ... In the sanctity of a person's home, there needs to be restraint."

On the other hand, he said, it can "show the true facts of the case."


© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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