ACLU still plans for videotaping of police
By Jeremy Kohler
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
St. Louis — Nearly a year ago, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri announced that, by summer, it would be arming north St. Louis residents with video cameras to record interactions between police and the public.
The announcement created a brief debate between those who believed tapes would capture police brutality, and others who believed the program would be a dangerous waste of time.
It raised eyebrows outside St. Louis, too, garnering attention from Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor," among other media.
But nearly a year later, the plan has not gotten off the ground, according to Reditt Hudson, who heads up the ACLU's racial justice program and says it's still coming.
The organization is unwilling to discuss timing, other than to say it is working carefully and quietly toward starting up next year.
Neither the ACLU nor the police knew of any other previous effort nationally to put officers under private surveillance.
"The important thing is that the program is very much in the works," said Brenda Jones, the chapter's executive director. "It's an important initiative and we plan to have something we can talk publicly about early in the year."
In interviews last December, the group said the videotaping would begin after a series of workshops near Fairground Park, where blacks could learn about how to protect their rights during dealings with police.
The program is called the Racial Justice Initiative. Jones said some of the workshops were held this year.
Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer, has long said the department sometimes mistreats and unfairly targets blacks. He said the ACLU hopes the presence of cameras will act as a deterrent to abuse and result in smoother dealings between residents and officers.
The ACLU suggests videotaping as a way to lessen the potential for violence in some of the city's poorer sectors, where it says black motorists are sometimes stopped for no reason.
The St. Louis Police Department has had little to say about the plan. Chief Joe Mokwa has said the taping would be legal and that he believed it would capture scenes of officers acting professionally.
Sgt. Kevin Ahlbrand, president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said last year that his organization doesn't expect any negative reports to come out of videotaping. Contacted this week, Ahlbrand said he had "basically kind of forgotten" about it.