Why would SWAT officers not wear body cams?

New York News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — An investigation is underway into an officer-involved shooting in Rochester that left one man dead. However, many are questioning the process of transparency, as certain officers were not required to wear their body cameras.

Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said the shooting took place Friday when a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was tracking a suspect wanted for assault, attempted murder, and criminal possession of a weapon. The man in his mid-20s was believed to be involved in four shootings during a 24-hour period.

“Clearly this is someone that we considered very high risk and that is why we had the SWAT team involved,” the chief said. “We followed him for several hours trying to minimize the danger to people and that was our first opportunity to do it when he was by himself.”

Herriott-Sullivan said when officers attempted to take the man into custody, he fled on foot through streets and backyards. The chief said the man opened fire on officers who returned fire. The man was shot multiple times and pronounced dead at the hospital.

An investigation is underway, but there is no body-worn camera footage of the incident because SWAT officers are not required to earn them. The police chief says this is protocol.

“We don’t do that for certain specific special assignments. It’s in our protocol that special assignment people—like I’m sure you can understand why scuba wouldn’t want to wear it, but there are just specialty assignments where it’s just not conducive to do that, and there are different reasons for that,” she said.

Public safety expert and ex-RPD chief Dr. Cedric Alexander explained that this is a policy sometimes used to keep tactical procedures a secret. “That group is made up of a well-trained group of police officers that go beyond the standard training,” Alexander said. “In many agencies that do not have body cameras, there are concerns that the tactics and the movements could be copy-catted by bad guys.”

Alexander clarifies: “Some things, oftentimes, you may not want to become part of public knowledge. Because that means that bad guys certainly can prepare themselves for the type of tactics that may be utilized to enter a building, to enter a house, even the communication style of those SWAT officers.”

Community leader Rev. Lewis Stewart, with the United Christian Leadership Ministry, is calling for a change to that policy. “It is incumbent upon them, based upon the state of mistrust in the community, between law enforcement and the community, that even the swat team should be wearing body cameras,” said Rev. Stewart. “We want transparency. We want to see the footage because only by seeing the camera footage can the facts be verified.”

This shooting comes under a month since the last fatal RPD officer-involved shooting. Herriot-Sullivan says she understands the public concern, but she believes this incident was done in a way that maximized public safety. “It makes sense to me some of the responses that we’re getting. But if you have people that pull out a gun and just start shooting and don’t care who is in the vicinity—if there are kids around—it’s difficult to manage a situation like that,” she said. “I’m proud of our officers that they slowed it down, they took several hours and followed this person for quite a bite a time to minimize danger to the community.”

The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave following standard procedure. The New York State Attorney General’s Office has jurisdiction over the investigation, standard procedure following any police-involved shooting. 

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