Investigation: Many law enforcement agencies have military equipment, only 1/3 use body cameras

Investigation: Many law enforcement agencies have military equipment, only 1/3 use body cameras

A new investigation into policing practices by Channel 2′s Washington bureau found most law enforcement agencies get military equipment from the federal government and about 1/3 use body cameras.

Channel 2′s Samantha Manning has spent the last few weeks talking to hundreds of police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement officials all over the country.

Many of them say limited local funding plays a role in their access to programs and equipment.

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“We have awakened the conscience of our nation,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said.

A movement sparked by brutality has now led to a nationwide call for police reform.

Currently, there isn't a national database when it comes to many police practices, so Manning created her own.

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She contacted law enforcement agencies across the Atlanta metro area and in areas across the country where Channel 2 Action News has sister stations -- more than 400 in total.

We found around 38% of law enforcement agencies use body cameras.

Less than 10% have citizen review boards to review cases involving use of force.

Around half use surplus military equipment from the federal government.

Here in the Atlanta area, more than 90% of the agencies who responded use body cameras.

Around 70% have surplus military equipment.

Manning brought the findings to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"The police have become so militarized that the military is already effectively in cities and towns. That's what this analysis shows me," said Arthur Ago, criminal justice project director at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "I would think that there would have been more jurisdictions that had access to body worn cameras."

Many of the chiefs and sheriffs Manning spoke with said it comes down to money. They can't afford the cost of the body cameras or the video storage.

They say limited funding also plays a role in the use of surplus military equipment through a program with the Pentagon.

"We have to take the emotion out of these conversations," Acevedo said.

Records from our investigation show dozens of agencies have armored vehicles.

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

Departments say they use them in flooding and other weather events.

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

"Well I would say that they need to go no further than Dayton, Ohio. 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," Acevedo said.

"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.

In many cases, Channel 2 Action News found local law enforcement agencies with rifles from the 10-33 program. But the overwhelming majority say those rifles are only used for ceremonies like parades and funerals. 

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