Prickett: We Issue Body Cams for a Reason, Chief

Ed. Note: Greg Prickett is former police officer and supervisor who went to law school, hung out a shingle, and now practices criminal defense and family law in Fort Worth, Texas. While he was a police officer, he was a police firearms instructor, and routinely taught armed tactics to other officers.

On Monday, June 1, 2020, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad was fired by the mayor, Greg Fischer. While this sort of thing happens all the time, since most chiefs serve at the will of the mayor or the city manager, depending on the structure of city government, this was an unusual case.

First, the chief was fired because the last two officer-involved shootings, both of which resulted in the death of honest, hard-working, black citizens who were not violating the law, were not caught on body cam video.[1] Second, and no less important, was that Conrad was set to retire at the end of the month.

On Friday, March 13, 2020, at about 1:00 a.m., Louisville Metro Police (LMPD) executed a no-knock search warrant at the apartment of Breonna Taylor. The warrant was looking for someone who did not live at the apartment and who had no connection with either Taylor or her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. Witnesses stated that the police did not knock or otherwise announce themselves. Walker, who thought that his home was being broken into, fired at the people entering and struck LMPD Sergeant John Mattingly in the leg. Police responded by firing 22 times, hitting Taylor at least 8 times and killing her.

Walker, after being jailed for two weeks, was released, which of course outraged both Chief Conrad and the local police union president. At the same time, it turns out that the individual that police were looking for was already in police custody. And in all of this, there was no body cam video, because members of the “Criminal Interdiction Division” are not issued the cameras. Taylor’s family has filed a federal lawsuit. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the matter for civil rights violations.

After protests started in Louisville following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, police and National Guard were going to clear an intersection of people. A shot rang out, people started firing. and David McAtee, a barbecue store owner at the intersection, was dead. At least two LMPD officers[2] fired their weapons. And although these officers were equipped with body cams, not a single one was turned on. The FBI is looking into this case also.

Two officer involved shootings and no video? Governor Andy Beshear said flat out that this was unacceptable. Mayor Fischer apparently thought so too, firing Chief Conrad shortly after the lack of video became known. Fischer also noted that LMPD policy required that the cameras be turned on in those type of incidents, and said that disciplinary action was possible.

I’ll point out that the denizens over at PoliceOne are in shock. They can’t believe that the chief got fired, and arbitrarily decided that if police get shot at, the rules go out the window. None of them seem to understand what is happening right now. LMPD first obtained about 1,000 body cams in 2015.[3] Yet they don’t issue the cameras to officers who are going to use a ram to bust down a door, and the officers that do have them don’t seem concerned about turning the cameras on.

And now something I predicted is happening. Elected officials are holding police administrators responsible for not supervising their officers. The elected officials have reached the point where they are not going to blindly back the police, and the police really, really, really don’t like it. The policy for no-knock warrants at LMPD now requires the chief of police to approve it before it goes to a judge. I’ll lay odds that cameras will be on more often. And I imagine that police oversight will change as a result of the deaths of Floyd and the others.

And that’s a good thing, for both the public and the police.

[1] While not trained on body cameras, I attended the Law Enforcement Mobile Video Institute (LEMVI) and was certified on mobile video cameras as an instructor. LEMVI was run by Jim Kuboviak, a former police officer who went to law school and who was the long time Brazos County Attorney.

[2] Identified as Officers Kate Crews and Allen Austin.

[3] See https://www.policeone.com/police-products/body-cameras/press-releases/louisville-metro-police-to-deploy-988-axon-body-worn-cameras-on-evidencecom-and-mediasolv-solution-OTLeauTnm4hHKPsA/

14 thoughts on “Prickett: We Issue Body Cams for a Reason, Chief

  1. Tom

    Cops shoot unarmed white people on body camera but rioting, burning and looting don’t result. These are two examples on YouTube. (teenager in hall mesa AZ 2017 hotel shooting, father and 6 year old son Louisiana 2015). Every year they shoot more white people (raw numbers not percentage of ethnic group). We hire members of your profession to seek change. That being said I do agree Qualified immunity for government actors need to stop. It has been abused to protect corrupt politicians and bad cops.

    1. Gregory Prickett

      The killing of any unarmed civilian needs to be addressed, but you need to be aware of a critical difference. Whites are killed well below their numbers based on population, compared to people of other races. As of 2015, the last time I pulled the data for an article, this is what I came up with:

      “The racial group most likely to be killed by the police are African-American men aged 20-24, with 7.1 per million killed per year. Then, surprisingly for many, are American Indian men aged 25-34 (6.6/million) and American Indian men aged 35-44 (5.9/million), before going back to African-American men aged 25-34 (5.6). In fifth place are American Indian men aged 20-24 (4.6/million).” from “Red Lives Matter: They’re Killing Native Americans Too”, Mimesislaw.com, Aug. 10, 2015.

      The sad fact is that a person of color is at least 3 to 5 times as likely to be shot by the police than a white person. When brutality is pervasive and not address, people lose the ability to trust the system to do the right thing. And in Minneapolis, blacks have no reason to expect that the officer will be convicted, especially based on the acquittal of the last cop tried for killing a black man.

      1. Erik H

        While it’s clear the system is very biased against POC, especially POC males (on oh so many fronts) why do you think it’s best to use overall population-rate numbers and not arrest-rate numbers or encounter-rate numbers? Or anything else which controls for any of the other vast differences–many of which are themselves caused by racism–in the experience?

        Arrest-rate numbers certainly make the system look less racist than it really is, because they fail to consider that cops are more likely to detain/arrest POC in the first place. Driving While Black disappears (so to speak) when you use arrest rates. But conversely, you can’t ignore differential area crime rates either: centuries of racism have led to poverty, penury, poor education, and geographic isolation; those factors correlate with higher crime rates; and if you don’t adjust for that at all then you get a different set of issues with the data.

        1. Scott Jacobs

          OK, I’m going to try to dumb this down for you…

          If you have 1000 marbles (600 red, 300 blue, and 100 green) and you pull out 200 marbles, you would expect to pull out roughly 120 red, 60 blue, and 20 green.

          That’s about what you should get, generally.

          If instead you pull out 90 red, 75 blue, and 35, then while you’re still pulling out more red marbles, you are pulling a higher number of blues and greens.

          Does that make the issue more clear?

          1. MelK

            Question, teacher!

            What if the marbles are on the one hand, also clear, translucent and opaque. And on the other hand, they are also lead-centered, hollow, and solid glass?

            How confident are you that color is the only reasonable basis for your study? How much weight (if any) should be given to some of those other factors?

    2. Nemo

      I rarely speak here any more, which no doubt is a relief for the mean-ass editor, but I want to address this philosophically: If Blacks are being unjustly shot, et alia, by police, and so are Whites, the front line of getting the police to respect the Bill of Rights and stop is outside the Blacks, the Whites are taking enemy fire, but they’re farther back from the line of defense.

      The point is that defending the Bill of Rights can’t be individualized, that leads to only caring about the rights of those you like. It stands for all of us, or none of us, philosophically speaking. If we want police to stop, the place to begin is with the most vulnerable, if that works we’ll all be safer because it’ll be based on that founding document. Anything less is a distraction.

      My apologies, sir, I’ll shut back up now.

  2. John Barleycorn

    When are we gonna get the, what-goes-down-on-the-ground when the “FBI is looking into it” post?

    Cheers Greg!

    P.S. Is it too soon to be asking for body cams at the Zoning and Planning department yet?

  3. Sam

    Mr. Prickett,

    What do you think is a realistic enforcement mechanism for body camera use (which has raised issues for some time) that could stay in place after this current focus on policing has passed?

    Thank you for providing an invaluable perspective on the topic of policing. I wish more people could hear this.

    1. SHG Post author

      Not that Greg’s perspective isn’t valuable, but why do I get the sense that you’re that guy who’s notion of invaluable is “stuff I agree with” and worthless “stuff I don’t”? If you want your validation to matter, then you might want to try concerning yourself with principles rather than being just another over-indoctrinated kiddy outcome whore.

      1. Gregory Prickett

        I can’t answer it anyway, there is no one size fits all policy that will work for this. For example, Seaton’s favorite sheriff, Roy Templeton will have a different need than NYPD.

  4. Pingback: We Issue Body Cams for a Reason, Chief – Lex Ferenda

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