Cops Forced to Buy Their Own Body Cams
The Ohio cop hailed as a hero for disarming a murder suspect recorded the standoff on his own private body cam.
The Ohio cop praised for holding his fire while taking down a murder suspect recorded the incident on his own body camera—and belongs to a legion of officers nationwide buying the technology themselves, even in the tiniest police departments.
Rookie officer Jesse Kidder, 27, has made headlines for refusing to pull the trigger on a suicidal man who charged at him last week while screaming, “Shoot me! Shoot me!”
The harrowing footage shows Kidder—a Marine and Purple Heart recipient who served two tours in Iraq—backing away from the suspect who darted at him while plunging his hand in his pocket.
“Law enforcement officers all across the nation have to deal with split-second decisions that mean life or death. I wanted to be absolutely sure before I used deadly force,” Kidder told Cincinnati’s WLWT.
Kidder didn’t know if Michael Wilcox, 27, who allegedly killed his girlfriend and a friend, was armed. Dispatchers warned that the suspect might attempt “suicide by cop.”
In the video, Kidder draws his gun and yells, “Get your hands up!”
“Stop right there. I don’t want to shoot you!” he adds.
Kidder continued to jump backwards until Wilcox surrendered—just as backup arrived.
The officer has been on the force in New Richmond—a small town about 20 miles southeast of Cincinnati—for only a year. His family bought his $400 body camera in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
New Richmond has just three full-time and six-part time officers, according to its website. The police chief there said he plans to seek funding for cameras following Kidder’s headline-grabbing bust.
As a string of deadly police shootings dominate news coverage in recent months, law enforcement offices in even the smallest towns are purchasing body cameras in bulk.
But some cops, like Kidder, have started wearing their own cameras before local governments can muster the funds.
About 25 out of 1,800 police officers in Austin, Texas, purchased their own cameras, according to the Austin police department. If there’s anything of “evidentiary value,” they’re required to burn a DVD of the footage, officials told The Daily Beast.
In January, Austin cop Marcos Johnson used footage to defend his chase of a driver accused of stealing a car. The video from his $200 body cam shows Johnson running after the suspect and using his Taser.
“Stop! Police!” Johnson is heard shouting. “Don’t you move. Get on the ground!”
Johnson told KEYE-TV that after he cuffed the suspect, the alleged carjacker met with a police supervisor and claimed the cop shot him with a Taser several times.
Johnson’s shirt-collar shutter showed otherwise. “That definitely saved me and … made sure that I was adhering to policy while I was out doing this job,” he said.
In 2010, Austin cop Billy Hurst’s mini camera—attached to his uniform—recorded a murder suspect spraying bullets at police officers, and Hurst barely missing the gunfire.
The Austin Police Department has plans to eventually outfit 850 officers with cameras and software for a cost of upwards of $7 million, Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Daily Beast. There are currently no department-funded cameras. If officers want them, they have to get them on their own, he said.
“After a while, people paint [law enforcement] with a very broad brush regardless of what incident occurred,” Acevedo said. “It’s important for us to capture what officers are doing … to show that a vast majority of the time they’re doing the right thing.”
Meanwhile, major body camera companies including Taser and Digital Ally are reportedly seeing an uptick in department orders.
Cops in smaller jurisdictions are often buying body cams on their own dime, too—including officers on the 44-member Sedalia, Missouri, police department and the Olmsted Falls, Ohio, force, which has 10 full-time cops.
At the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department in West Virginia, Deputy L.A. Clay bought his own personal camera—and is the only officer on his 34-member force to do so.
In 2012, Clay was accused of violating a woman’s civil rights during a traffic stop. He told The Daily Beast he pulled her over on suspicion of drunken driving.
“The lady made an accusation that I made her get out of the car and strip naked on a city street,” said Clay, 49, adding that her claim was tossed because of video footage from a stoplight.
Shortly after the incident, Clay purchased a nearly $1,200 Digital Ally body camera. He turns it on every day.
But it wasn’t until two months ago that the camera saved him from trouble— after another woman claimed Clay beat her while transporting her to jail and sought a settlement.
“During the court hearing, [the department] played the videotape and it showed her spitting on me and kicking me,” Clay said. “Not me doing anything to her.”
The woman’s attorneys previously tried to broker a deal: They wouldn’t sue for a civil-rights violation if charges against her of disorderly conduct and obstructing justice were dropped.
“Body cameras defend us,” Clay said. “They tell the whole truth. You can’t lie to the camera. The audio, the video, tells the truth.”
His boss, Captain Jim Sizemore, said the Fayette County department recently bought seven Digital Ally-brand cameras at about $700 apiece. Sizemore obtained funding to purchase 20 more units.
“We’re a big believer in making sure there’s transparency with what our officers do,” said Sizemore, who even contacted the ACLU for advice and described his agency as “progressive.”
“We were looking at this long before Ferguson became a household word,” he added.
The Fayette County deputies—who cover 47,500 residents across eight municipalities—must activate the cameras anytime they make contact with the public. Only senior administrators have the ability to access or delete the officers’ videos, Sizemore said.
“In this day and age it’s become common for citizens to have a serous distrust of law enforcement,” he said. “If there’s a question that arises, we want to have video evidence that shows what occurred.”