When an Atlanta police officer on an FBI fugitive task force shot and killed an unarmed man in January, he hadn’t been assigned a body camera. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields moved to assign cameras to all local officers on task forces and was told no. Federal agents never wear body cameras and prohibit local officers from wearing them on joint operations. Shields and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms pulled Atlanta’s 25 officers out of joint task forces with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, reports the Washington Post. “If you’re policing and you’re policing properly,” Shields said, “you have nothing to fear” from wearing a body camera.
As more local police departments require their officers to record their actions, chiefs have joined Atlanta in pushing back against the federal prohibition on body cameras. They note that the Justice Department has helped fund and train local police departments in body-camera use. St. Paul, Mn., officers have been kicked off a federal marshals’ task force for insisting on wearing their cameras, on orders from their chief, Todd Axtell. Police chiefs in Houston and Austin are considering pulling their officers from task forces if they can’t reach a compromise with the federal agencies. Federal agencies “have an obligation to join us in 21st-century policing,” Axtell said, adding, “It’s ironic they aren’t complying with what they preach to be so important in policing.” A DOJ official said the objection to cameras relates to “safety and security concerns, such as protecting sensitive or tactical methods used in arresting violent fugitives or conducting covert investigations.” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which includes the 69 largest police and sheriff’s departments, will meet with the FBI this month to discuss the issue