St. Louis officials OK trial of police body cameras, but unknown whether they'll stick | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis officials OK trial of police body cameras, but unknown whether they'll stick

Sep 20, 2017

St. Louis’ top elected officials said Wednesday they support a company’s offer to supply free body camera for police officers. But it’s not a sure thing that the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department will use them permanently.

Anthony Lamar Smith's mother, Annie Smith (center), watches a meeting of the St. Louis Board of Estimate and Apportionment. Smith's son was killed in 2011 by former St. Louis Police officer Jason Stockley.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, Comptroller Darlene Green and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed approved a proposal from Axon, formerly called Taser, to provide police officers with the cameras. In April, Axon said it would offer body cameras to all police departments for a year for free.

The three officials also voted to request bids from companies that would permanently supply the devices.

Reed sponsored the initiative, which he said would enhance trust between police and African-Americans. He said that’s especially important after a judge on Friday acquitted former St. Louis officer Jason Stockley of first-degree murder in the death of Anthony Lamar Smith.

“We need this to heal,” Reed said. “We need this for people to feel more confidence in our police department.”

But Reed acknowledged the St. Louis Police Officers Association would have to agree to permanently use body cameras.

While Krewson said she supports the use of body cameras, the mayor said there are longer-term questions — including who pays for storing the footage and maintaining the cameras after the trial ends.

“You know a lot of people agree that body cameras are a good tool,” said Krewson, who emphasized during the meeting that she supported police wearing body cameras. “But of course, those costs take away funds from what you have to pay officers also. I mean, there’s not an unlimited amount of funds.” 

Green, who accused Reed of “grandstanding” during the meeting, criticized the idea of approving a temporary plan. But she supported amending Reed’s proposal to require the city to find and pay for a body camera vendor by the end of the year.

“Black lives do matter,” said Green. “In order to make it clear that they matter, you have to come into the room and do business seriously. … I always wanted a permanent solution, but that’s not what was brought before us today. I changed it to make sure that the solution that comes forward is a permanent solution.”

Tough crowd

A member of the audience shouts at St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green. Green was critical that St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed's body camera plan initially didn't permanently fund the devices.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

The meeting between the three officials was one of the first times Krewson has appeared before a public audience since the Stockley verdict. Anthony Lamar Smith’s mother, Annie Smith, was at the hearing, as was Gina Torres, whose son Isaiah Hammett was killed by St. Louis officers in June.

Torres urged city officials to act. Before the meeting began, she said body cameras could show exactly what happens when an officer uses deadly force.

“Every person that they kill, they say has a gun in their hand,” she said.

At times, members of the crowd interrupted the meeting and demanded Krewson, Green and Reed approve a body camera plan.

“And until we start changing this legislation and these policies that are still in place from 1619, we’re never going to get it right,” Coffee Wright said.

Krewson said she heard and understood the concerns and experiences of many in the crowd.

“You have moms there that have lost their sons — and I can’t imagine how horrible that is,” Krewson said. “So I appreciate the pain that’s being expressed there and don’t have any problem at all.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum