Opinion: Stronger laws, body cams enhance protection

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Alabama’s Sen. Jeff Sessions yesterday joined Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey in introducing the Thin Blue Line Act, which establishes stiffer punishments for those who attack firefighters, police officers and criminal prosecutors.

“The alarming spike in violence directed against the men and women entrusted with ensuring the safety and order of our society must be stopped,” Sessions said in a statement. “Those who would murder a person simply because he or she wears blue deserve a harsh penalty. This legislation seeks to achieve those ends.”

Analysts say the legislation also appears to be a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, which started because of complaints by people of color of violence perpetrated by police officers. Protestors recently have interrupted presidential campaign rallies to make their voices heard.

According to a report by The Associated Press, 26 police officers were killed between January and September this year, compared to 30 in that time period last year.

Separately, a report in The Guardian found that 547 people had been killed by police through June of this year.

Certainly, we would agree with the good senator that “blue lives” matter. Just this week, local officers either participated in, or covered so that their neighbors could attend funeral services for a Florida deputy gunned down while serving civil papers. His death was senseless, and we grieve his loss with both his biological family and his brothers and sisters in blue. But so, too, are the deaths of those who die in street crimes, or at the hands of impaired drivers. As Americans were recently and so eloquently reminded by Pope Francis, all lives matter.

“Every life is sacred,” the pontiff told Congress, touching specifically on convicted criminals and his opposition to the death penalty, but also speaking more broadly of immigrants and presumably, the unborn.

Soon, local men and women in blue will have new body cameras, thanks to a grant application made by the Andalusia Police Department and generous grant readers in the U.S. Department of Justice. Only 73 grants applications were funded. The $87,224 awarded by the Justice Department will fund 81 body-worn cameras for Andalusia and Opp police officers, as well as for county deputies. Florala’s officers already wear cameras, as do a few officers in the other departments.

The cameras are touted as a way to reduce the use of force and clear up questions about disputed encounters. Interest in the technology soared after a series of fatal encounters between police officers and unarmed civilians.

But surely, the cameras must also afford some protection to the officers from those who would harm them. As part of the grant, the APD will lead a collaborative effort to establish the best protocols and policies for body worn camera use and digital media evidence storage.

Both the enhanced technology and the stronger laws should serve to protect those whose job it is to protect all of us.