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German police happy to wear body cameras

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A Frankfurt police officer wearing a body camera. Photo: DPA
10:53 CEST+02:00
Following multiple high-profile shootings of unarmed black men by police officers in the US, debate is heating up about the use of body cameras. Germany is already a few steps ahead – but unions have a few reservations.

“We don't think it would be right to equip every police officer with such a camera,” Police Union (GdP) leader Oliver Malchow said on Friday in response to questions about the latest US police shooting in South Carolina.

He argued that it makes sense to limit the use of cameras, as they wouldn't only record police officers' actions, but also citizens' behaviour.

North Charleston (South Carolina) police officer Michael Slager has been charged with murder after he shot Walter Scott, a black man, multiple times in the back when he ran away during a routine traffic stop.

Now the city plans to outfit its 350 officers with body cameras to improve the transparency of their work.

That echoes moves in Germany, where several cities have already experimented with the technology.

But Malchow argued that the goal of the cameras was different in Germany: rather than protecting citizens from police abuse, they were in fact aimed at deterring violence against officers.

Police in Hesse, the first state to experiment with the cameras, reported that attacks against police were reduced following a pilot project in state capital Frankfurt in early 2014.

The different purpose of the cameras is largely because German police use their firearms much less frequently than their American colleagues.

They fatally shot just eight people in 2013, compared with 461 across the United States.

“Using our weapons is a complete exception for us,” Malchow said, adding that this is the case even though the law might allow for them to be used more often.

“We don't want an American situation here.”

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Malchow agreed with his colleague, German Police Union (DpolG) chairman Rainer Wendt, that the authorities should wait for the results of the pilot projects before making a final decision.

“The police have nothing to hide,” Wendt said. “Anyone can look at what we do."

He pointed out that patrol cars have had dashboard cameras to film traffic stops for a long time.

SEE ALSO: Three German reporters suing Ferguson police

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