President Obama is calling for body cameras to be carried by police officers around the nation, and he has asked Congress to fund 50,000 of the electronic devices for law enforcement personnel. Funding for the project proposed by the White House would cost the national government $263 million. A new federal task force will also be formed, charged with developing a coherent national response to the civil rights upheaval still unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri. Widespread demonstrations, which occasionally turned violent, have rocked the city of 21,000 people since the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer on August 9, 2014.
A grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot the African-American victim. Some rioting took place in the city following the decision, but violence was subdued, compared to the reaction to the decision in the O.J. Simpson trial, announced in 1995.
"As the nation has observed, trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services," the White House announced in a press release detailing the President's position on body cameras for law enforcement officers.
Police officers are increasingly distrusted by many Americans, especially racial minorities and those of limited financial means. The President believes the electronic equipment will help build trust once more between law enforcement officers and the general public.
In addition to body cameras for police officers, President Obama also called for better training for law enforcement personnel, both in the use of equipment and Constitutional behavior.
"[T]raining has not been institutionalized, specifically with respect to civil rights and civil liberties protections, or the safe use of equipment received through the federal government. Concerns over the lack of consistent protections have received renewed focus and attention in light of the recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri," the Review: Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition report, released on December 1, 2014, stated.
The Oath Keepers, a mysterious group made up largely of former members of law enforcement organizations and the military, patrolled rooftops in Ferguson at the time of the jury announcement. Their group announced they did not trust local police forces to protect local businesses from rioters. The well-armed guards withdrew upon orders from law enforcement, but vowed to stay in the area, hidden among crowds of protesters.
Under Barack Obama's plan, funding for the cameras would be spread out over three years. Such devices could allow for firsthand evidence of instances such as the one that set off unrest in Ferguson.