Good for the Forest Park Police Department for finding a way to provide body cams for every officer. It took a creative melding of funding sources. Mostly, though, it was leadership’s determination that this technology is vital for every modern police department.
We go further, though, and say body cams are particularly necessary for a department with an earned reputation for mistreating suspects of color over decades. The number of lawsuits, the number of settlements reflect a problem, a culture with historic roots.
We know there are some who disagree with our entire assessment. There are some who say the historical problems have dissipated but that the town’s reputation for settling cases has made it an easy mark.
We do believe that new leadership in the department under Chief Tom Aftanas has had positive impact. We believe that the gradual retirement of the department’s old guard — some of them, not all of them — has allowed a culture shift, a training shift that has improved performance. We believe having a black mayor who has thoughtfully offered honest critiques of the department sends a powerful message about how every person is to be treated.
And now, with body cams recording every encounter with citizens, we expect to see an end to brutality and disrespect toward all citizens — every color, anywhere on the spectrum of mental health, with a criminal record or without.
Aftanas, in an interview with our Maria Maxham, said he had anticipated some level of pushback from his officers to the new cameras. Happily, he received none. He attributes it to younger officers who simply anticipate this type of technology on the job. Also, he believes the body cams surface less confrontation from citizens and allow his officers to prove via video the high level of most every citizen encounter.
Whatever the combination of responses to body cams, we are enthused about the likelihood they will bring better policing to our community.