City officials had all the motivation they needed back in May, when questions arose after rookie Bridgeport Police Officer James Boulay shot and killed 15-year-old Jayson Negron. A bystander's video cast doubt on the official version of events, and city officials soon pledged to find money for dashboard cameras.
But six months passed with no action, until another incident shook the city last week.
On Nov. 10, a Bridgeport Police officer was captured on video beating a teenager after a traffic stop. Officer Christina Arroyo acknowledged punching 18-year-old Aaron Kearney "multiple times in the face with both fists" in a report on the incident. She is now on administrative duty pending an internal investigation.
But the video wasn't captured by any police cameras. Mr. Kearney's mother recorded it as she cried, "Don't hurt my son! Don't hurt my son!"
It's fortunate that she had the presence of mind to record the incident, and it's yet another reason why Bridgeport police must, immediately, begin routinely recording their officers' interactions with the public. Dash cameras and body cameras go a long way toward protecting police and citizens and could have defused — or prevented — these recent incidents involving Bridgeport police had they been in use.
Friday wasn't the first time Officer Arroyo was connected to such an incident. A federal brutality lawsuit naming Ms. Arroyo and six other members of the Bridgeport police department was settled in 2014. In response to a question from The Courant, a city official wrote that Officer Arroyo "has not been on leave and has no sustained discipline prior" to last week's incident.
After Friday's incident, Bridgeport officials say they are going after state grant money for dash cams, and a law was passed in May that will expand access to a $9 million pool of state money for just this purpose.
What took so long?
This should have been a priority for years, and the biggest city in Connecticut should be able to pay for the cameras itself. As former state representative and incoming Bridgeport City Council member Ernest Newton told the Connecticut Post, "If we can find $7.9 million to rebuild the ballpark into an amphitheater, we can find the money for these cameras."
Hartford managed to purchase body cameras and implement a policy for their use on its own, without state money, back in 2012. Those cameras have been sitting on a shelf for years because of a dispute with the police union over their use, officials said. Hartford police cars are equipped with dash cameras.
Videos have proven their usefulness. A dashboard camera provided the key piece of evidence in the case against former Hartford Police Sgt. Sean Spell, who was seen kicking a suspect in the head. A video was also critical to the case of Hartford Police Officer Robert Murtha, who shot a fleeing suspect in 2003, was fired based on the video, and later exonerated by a jury and reinstated to duty.
Police will be less likely to use unnecessary force if they know their actions are being recorded. Cameras can also help police make a case in court, and they protect good cops from unfounded claims of brutality.
Bridgeport's police union president, Charles Paris, told the Connecticut Post that his initial opposition to body cameras has changed. "I think body cameras could have recorded a lot more of the details that were going on," he said.
Mr. Paris is right. Cameras have become an indispensable tool for fighting crime and protecting officers and citizens. Clearly, Bridgeport's department needs to switch them on.