Cumberland police to purchase body cameras amidst heightened tension nationwide

CUMBERLAND, Ind. – The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week it will award two Indiana cities hundreds of thousands of dollars to help implement a body camera program.

Cumberland Police will receive $17,255 in a matching grant and Carmel will receive $86,512, although a spokesperson for the Carmel Police Department said  officials are still reviewing the grant and any further application of it.

In Cumberland, the department will be able to equip its nine full-time officers with body cameras and the federal money will also help with storing the video. A new state law has set strict guidelines on how long video must be kept.

“I think it goes both ways,” Commander Chris Etherton said. “It protects both individuals. The camera’s not going to lie.”

The award comes at a time of growing tension between activists and police nationwide.

In Indianapolis on Saturday, Black Lives Matter protesters marched downtown demanding more police transparency. Hours later in Charlotte, North Carolina, amidst growing pressure the department released its body camera video of a deadly police shooting that happened days before.

The move is a decision police departments across Indiana know could be at their doorstep in an instant.

“Use of force by the police is strictly scrutinized across America,” Major Richard Riddle said, with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.  “And Indianapolis is no different.”

Indiana’s new body camera law also leaves the decision to local police departments on when or if a video is released. A member of the public can appeal a decision to a judge, and the police department would have to make its case for why a video should be kept private.

In Cumberland, officers know with new technology tough decisions will follow.

But Etherton points to the department's dash camera video, which has been in place since 2008, and a reduction in the number of claims of police brutality filed against the department.

“It’s cut down on our complaints,” he said. “Once they realize we have these cameras, those people coming in make those false complaints have stopped.”

Etherton wants the cameras to prove effective for both police and the public.

“If there is something going on that the officer is doing wrong,” he said. “The camera’s going to catch it.”