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Ducey begins plan to equip DPS troopers with body cameras

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Ducey begins plan to equip DPS troopers with body cameras

  • Bayne Froney/Cronkite News

Gov. Doug Ducey plans to acquire 150 body cameras for the Department of Public Safety, the first step in a larger proposal to equip all state troopers with cameras.

Private sector partners will donate the 150 body cameras, according to Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak. The governor will ask the legislature next session to provide funding for additional body cameras to equip all DPS troopers. Ptak and DPS wouldn't say who is donating the cameras.

Ducey made a similar proposal in his State of the State address in January, and in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 he asked the legislature to provide $5 million for DPS to purchase 1,267 body cameras, as well as to fund 20 new full-time employees at the agency who would manage the equipment and the videos they capture. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn derailed those plans.

"Increasing public trust and keeping our state troopers safe are issues on which we can all agree — and we plan to move forward on this good idea," Ducey said in a press release on Wednesday. "With this phased in approach, we can begin equipping state troopers with body-worn cameras while helping ensure the eventual full deployment of this equipment is a success."

The lack of body cameras for state troopers became an issue in the May 25 shooting of Dion Johnson, an unarmed Black man, by DPS Trooper George Cervantes.

The trooper said he found Johnson asleep in his car on the side of the Loop 101 freeway near the 64th Street exit, smelling of alcohol with open containers in the vehicle and a handgun on the passenger seat. When he tried to arrest Johnson, Cervantes said Johnson tried to grab his gun and pulled him into the car. Cervantes fired his gun twice, hitting Johnson once with a fatal shot.

Maricopa County Attorney Adel announced earlier this month that she wouldn't file charges against Cervantes in Johnson's death, saying the trooper reasonably feared for his life and acted in self-defense. Days later, Adel called on legislative leadership to pass a law requiring all law enforcement officers in Arizona to wear body cameras, noting that neither Cervantes nor another trooper who responded to the scene were wearing cameras.

Adel on Wednesday applauded Ducey's plan, calling it an "initial step" and again calling for mandatory use of body cameras statewide.

"Transparency and accountability are critical elements within our criminal justice system. Mandatory use of body-worn cameras for all uniformed officers in the field is absolutely vital and that is why I have made this one of my top priorities as Maricopa County Attorney," Adel said in a press statement.

Benjamin Taylor, a Phoenix defense attorney, also supported Ducey's plan, but said it needs to go further. He called for legislation or DPS policies requiring the cameras to remain on and punishing troopers if they turn the cameras off during an investigation.

Taylor pointed to the case of Marissa Morris, who was punched in the face by a Flagstaff police officer during an arrest in 2016. The officer, Jeffrey Bonar, was wearing a body camera, but had turned it off. Had another person not captured cell phone video of the incident, Taylor said Morris, whom he represented, likely would have gone to jail for the incident. Instead, Bonar pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor aggravated assault charge in 2018 and lost his job with the Flagstaff Police Department.

"What good is a body camera if you can't see the evidence because it's been turned off by the officer?" Taylor said.

In a more recent incident, a Peoria police officer on Monday shot a 15-year-old boy in the face after the teen allegedly drove his car at the officer's vehicle. The officer was wearing a body camera but it wasn't turned on at the time.

State Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Phoenix, who has sponsored legislation wearing all law enforcement officers to wear and use body cameras, called Ducey's plan a step in the right direction. But he still wants to see body cameras on all police officers, along with requirements that those cameras remain on.

"I hope the governor will continue to follow the lead of not only myself, but the community, my colleagues who are passionate about this issue … to push for additional reforms," Bolding said.

Ptak said the governor's plan for now is only to equip DPS troopers with body cameras.

"We'll have those legislative discussions if they come up next year, but I think our focus mostly is getting these deployed so we can at least have them out there and be making a difference," Ptak said.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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