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Obama announces funding for 50,000 police body cameras

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In an announcement today, the White House has pledged $263 million in new federal funding for police training and body cameras, set aside by executive order. The money includes $75 million allocated specifically for the purchase of 50,000 cameras for law enforcement officers across the country. The training portion of the funds would go toward instructing police in the responsible use of paramilitary equipment like assault rifles and armored personnel carriers, much of which has flooded local departments as a result of a Homeland Security preparedness program. Additional funds will go to fund police outreach programs designed to build trust between local departments and the communities they serve.

$263 million in new federal funding

The cameras are designed to provide a definitive record of police activities, and have become a frequent demand in the wake of the Ferguson protests. The protests began with the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager killed by the police in Ferguson. Community leaders pointed to video taken in the aftermath of Brown's death as evidence of police misconduct, and the subsequent outcry has triggered a Justice Department investigation. More recently, a widely shared video of Cleveland police shooting a 12-year-old named Tamir Rice has intensified the demand for video documentation of police activities. Last week, the parents of Michael Brown announced a campaign "to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera."

The new funding push is substantial, but 50,000 cameras will cover only a fraction of the more than 750,000 police officers currently employed in America. Camera proposals have also run into trouble with public records laws in states like Washington, which require the release of all police records not actively tied up in an investigation. With hundreds of hours of video generated by police cameras every day, that would present serious problems for both privacy and simple logistics.

Still, many police departments have already looked into body-mounted cameras. On October 1st, the Washington D.C. police began a six-month pilot program that put cameras on the shoulders of many local police, and officials expect the program to reduce the number of complaints filed against officers by as much as 80 percent. The program wasn't cheap: it cost $1 million to buy and store the necessary volume of cameras. But after today, other departments that decide to take the same leap will have federal matching funds to soften the blow.

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