July 14 – CADILLAC – Michigan State Police officers in northern Lower Michigan will now wear body cameras to record interactions during traffic stops and other operations.
MSP’s Seventh District – which includes posts in Alpena, Gaylord, Cadillac and Houghton Lake – will equip its 146 troops with cameras, according to Lt. Derrick Carroll, MSP spokesman at the Gaylord post.
MSP announced last week that the Alpena substation had already undergone training to use the cameras. Gaylord’s post began training this week. Carroll said by the end of July he expects all training to be completed.
“The public is always recording police officers. A lot of the time when stories come out, they’re only told from the perspective of the citizens,” Carroll said. “It will give people a chance to see what the officer sees, which can often be quite different.”
Northern Lower Michigan is the second-to-last district to receive body cameras. The Greater Lansing area will be the last, according to Carroll.
Funding for the cameras comes from the permanent general fund of $3.8 million outlined in the state budget for fiscal year 2023.
The cameras cost $1,300 each.
“People said, ‘About time’. Well, we agree,” Carroll said. “This is an individual cost that we had to cover.”
In September 2020, MSP identified potential racial disparities in its division and commissioned an independent study from the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice.
The study found that African Americans were much more likely to be involved in a traffic stop than would be expected based on their representation in the population.
Mark Fancher, an attorney for the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said the introduction of body cameras would be good for transparency and accountability between law enforcement and the community they serve.
“The encounters that the community has frequently with law enforcement are often very intense, very emotional, and sometimes happen very quickly,” Fancher said. “There are very often different memories about what happened during the meeting.”
He went on to explain that from a legal standpoint, having contemporary video of what happened can be invaluable, especially in cases where people may have experienced a history of improper police conduct.
“Historically, great deference has been given to police accounts of what happens in these encounters,” Fancher said. “Police in general in the minds of jurors or judges or the general public benefit from doubt and are assumed to have greater credibility.”
Carroll said equipping every jurisdiction with body cameras is part of MSP’s five-point transparency plan that came in response to the study’s findings.
The plan also includes launching statewide listening and engagement efforts in partnership with the Bridges to BLUE Citizen Advisory Council, as well as increasing educational opportunities and improving the traffic stop data accessibility.
Carroll said the general fund allocations do not cover the costs of maintaining and storing the footage, or the costs of obtaining the video through the Freedom of Information Act.
Local activist group, Northern Michigan E3, member Marshall Collins, said from their perspective that they are delighted that MSP is following in the footsteps of the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office and the Traverse City Police Department in providing body cameras to their soldiers.
Their biggest concern, Collins said, is officers turning off cameras during contentious moments on the job.
“We want to make sure they’re used correctly and not turned off,” Collins said. “That’s why I think it’s important to have this training.”
According to Carroll, the cameras constantly record when an officer is on duty, but they don’t record all the footage. He said they can be manually activated or synced with the officer’s cruiser to record before and after footage of an interaction.
Carroll said officers could face disciplinary action if they disable the camera system.
“The soldiers are always recorded, whether by their on-board camera or by citizens. They seem happy for people to see their point of view,” Carroll said.