Get it on camera

Lapel and dashboard cameras take transparency in law enforcement to the next level

One of the main arguments in favor of law enforcement agencies outfitting their officers with body cameras and vehicles with dashcams is transparency, both for the protection of the public and also for those wielding badges.

That argument was underscored thanks to use of that technology at the Paradise Police Department, where an officer has been dismissed from his post and is now charged with involuntary manslaughter. Video footage from Patrick Feaster’s dashcam on the night of Nov. 25 showed him shooting a suspected DUI driver in the neck, though the victim, Andrew Thomas, appeared to pose no threat to the officer. He was the drunken driver of a small SUV that led Feaster on a short chase before hitting a median, flipping and killing the vehicle’s other occupant, Thomas’ wife, Darien Ehorn. Thomas, who was paralyzed from the gunshot wound, died weeks later at Enloe Medical Center.

Feaster appeared at Butte County Superior Court Wednesday morning (see Meredith J. Cooper’s report on page 10), and there’s no question in our minds that the video footage is critical to his facing criminal charges. Without it, we would not have seen the questionable circumstances under which Thomas was shot. Nor would we have seen Feaster’s reaction to the situation, including apparently scouring the scene for a bullet casing rather than reporting that Thomas had been shot or comforting the ailing Ehorn.

According to body cameras on officers who served as backup, it took Feaster 11 minutes upon their arrival to disclose that he fired his weapon (Feaster failed to turn on his own lapel camera).

Dashboard and body cameras ought to be standard pieces of equipment for today’s public-safely personnel, but not every department is equipped with them. In Butte County’s largest municipality, Chico, the police department does not have body cameras, though the devices have been tested. Purchase of the equipment will take place after the department secures grant funding, according to the city.

In our eyes, that day cannot come soon enough. Cameras are a tool to prove an officer’s actions, right or wrong. No law enforcement agency should be without them.