How many police departments use body cameras, surplus military equipment?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The brutality caught on camera with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has led to a nationwide call for police reform.

There is currently not a national database when it comes to many police practices, so we created our own using responses from local law enforcement agencies and data from the federal government.

Cox Media Group’s Washington D.C. Bureau contacted more than 400 local police departments and sheriff’s offices in areas where CMG stations are located across the country.

We received responses from more than 70 percent of the agencies contacted.

Our investigation found that overall, around 38 percent of agencies who responded use body cameras.

Less than ten percent have citizen review boards to review cases involving use of force.

Around half who responded have surplus military equipment from the federal government through the 1033 program.

In the Pittsburgh area, around 24 percent of the agencies who responded use body cameras and around 14 percent have surplus military equipment.

See complete data from our area in the map and chart below:

“The police have become so militarized that the military is already effectively in cities and towns,” said Arthur Ago, Criminal Justice Project Director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “That’s what this analysis shows me.”

We brought our findings to the organization.

“I would think that there would have been more jurisdictions that had access to body-worn cameras,” Ago said.

Ago also expressed concerns about the need for a uniformed standard for how body cameras are used by agencies.“Some police departments record constantly,” Ago said. “Some police departments don’t require recording unless some sort of incident happens. Preservation requirements. How long are they supposed to keep the files? Disclosure requirements. There’s discrepancy in those areas.”

Many of the chiefs and sheriffs we spoke with said it comes down to money, saying they want the body cameras but can’t afford them or the video storage for the massive amounts of data.

Some have requested funding but have been denied or are facing delays because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a lot of data,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said. “It is very expensive to actually store that data and then on top of that when there are public records requests across the country, it costs money to actually process those requests.”

Acevedo is the President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and said while he fully supports body cameras, he feels there should be additional funding from the federal government to cover the cost.

Local law enforcement leaders in our areas said the limited funding also plays a role in the use of surplus military equipment.

The Pentagon’s 1033 program allows military equipment to be transferred to local law enforcement agencies.

Local authorities only have to pay for the cost of shipping.

“We have to remove the emotions out of these conversations,” Acevedo said. “The American taxpayer already paid for that equipment and I’d rather it come back to American communities and taxpayers that paid for it,” Acevedo said.

Records from our investigation show dozens of agencies have armored vehicles, known as a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAP).

In some cases across the country, they have been used to help local police respond to recent protests sparking controversy.

Our investigations found that many of our local departments said the MRAPs are used in flooding and weather events including hurricane-rescues.

“What vehicle did we use in hurricane Harvey in Houston? We used our military surplus,” Acevedo said. “Nothing else could get to people without high water vehicles.”

We found more than 100 agencies have rifles from the federal government though the majority said the rifles are not deployed for patrol, but rather are used for ceremonial purposes such as parades and funerals.

“What do you say to people who are concerned about local law enforcement agencies becoming militarized?,” Washington Correspondent Samantha Manning asked Acevedo.

“Well, I would say that they need to go no further than Dayton Ohio,” Acevedo said about the 2019 mass shooting that killed nine people and wounded 17 others outside a Dayton bar. ‘Some deranged killer went on a shooting spree. It was a Dayton police officer with a military assault style rifle that we call patrol rifles that was able to take that man down.”

“I’m not going to say all out get rid of it but the fact that there’s so much of it on the streets and in different police departments around the country is concerning and it should be examined very, very careful,” Ago said.

Our investigation also revealed that very few agencies use a citizen review board to review cases involving use of force with officers or deputies.

“I was very surprised at few places have citizen review boards,” Ago said. “I expected there to be a lot more. These review boards are crucial and the review boards should have the necessary tools and power and funding to help change a police force that has gone wayward.”

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