The Case For Cameras: Sheriff Bensley Rejects Body Cams, Dash Cams and Accountability

If you’re stopped by the Traverse City police, there’s a good chance the whole encounter will be caught on camera. If you’re stopped by anyone from the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office, your encounter will most certainly not be captured on camera. That’s because Sheriff Bensley and the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office refuse to use body cameras and dash cameras. It’s October 15, 2018. And there’s not a single body camera or dash camera in the entire department.

So think about that for a second. If you’re charged with drunk driving, there’s no video from the arresting officer’s dash cam to verify whether you were actually weaving over the center line, or the officer just says that you were. In a fleeing and eluding case, there’s not ever going to be video evidence of whether you pulled over right away or hit the gas.

I would say that I’m surprised there aren’t drunk driving and fleeing and eluding trials every single day in Grand Traverse County, but the courts have employed the — go to trial and go to jail rule – to scare people out of exercising their constitutional rights. Because you know, what’s more constitutional than docket control?

Is there evidence that body cameras work?

There’s study after study after study after study that verifies the effectiveness of police body cams in reducing both use of force against citizens and citizen complaints about officer behavior. Perhaps with the body cams there’s less for citizens to complain about because the police behave better? Chicken/egg?

But there’s one study that says that police body cams have no positive impact on policing in the United States. Oh yeah, that study was sponsored by a police department. (You can’t make it up.)

The Traverse City police believe that body cameras work. In one of their reports, they site a study that body cameras have a big, positive impact on both the use of force and citizen complaints against police.

Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department – Too good to need body cams?

So everyone is on board that body cameras work – except the police, and even then only some of the police. Sheriff Bensley of the Grand Traverse County police department says that “we haven’t had any real issue with our officers in dealing with the public that would prompt us to have body cameras.” They don’t need body cameras, because they do it perfectly.

Sheriff Bensley believes in Grand Traverse County Sheriff Department exceptionalism apparently. They are the shining city on a hill. They don’t make mistakes, and they don’t need body cams to prove it to you. You will respect them because they say so. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah. Every totalitarian government ever.

But why is it up to Sheriff Bensley to be the judge of whether there are any “real issues?” If I have a police encounter in the future, you can bet that I want the entire thing on camera. Who is he to be the judge of whether there’s a real issue? Police officers who improperly use force don’t believe that there are ever “real issues” with their behavior. Sheriff Bensley is acting as prosecutor, judge and jury as to whether any private citizen could ever want the police officer that approaches them to use have a body cam. Quite frankly, he doesn’t get to be that paternalistic.

Also, his officers have had more than their share of bad acts. To say that they’re above bad behavior is laughable.

A Detroit incident shows that body cameras can tell the truth

Here’s an example of why police body cams are necessary. The police in Detroit showed up at a home looking for someone. When the home owner said there’s no one by that name here, the home owner closed the door. The police had no warrant, and there was no emergency. So the police broke down the door and arrested the man, for nothing more than refusing to do what the police demanded without the lawful authority to demand it. It was only because body camera footage existed that it was all sorted out at the officers were eventually charged with home invasion. So unless you’re okay with the police breaking into your home and arresting you for lawfully refusing a police request, you should be on board with body cams.

Why don’t they just pass a law requiring the police to get dash cams and body cams?

If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, the state government can’t really dictate anything to the local government that requires the local government to spend money. They think that it imposes an unreasonable burden on the local government to do something with no plan from where the money is going to come from.

I propose that we take up a collection. A body camera is about $1,000. I would be happy to sponsor one myself in the name of Dirty Traverse. It can be the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department body camera brought to you by Dirty Traverse. My guess is that if I did that the body cam would be turned on never. But I would be happy to plunk down my $1,000 to sponsor my very own officer body cam. I expect semi-annual letters and photos letting me know how my camera is being used. I might even spring for two body cams. Do I get to choose which officers I get to sponsor?

What if we had a public fundraiser? We all pitch in for summer fireworks, I’m sure we’d all pitch in for this too. Or why not a special county government funds appropriation to pay for the cameras? Coronated county administrator Nate Alger said earlier this year that the county had a surplus, so let’s put it to good work.

Oh but wait, the sheriff’s department doesn’t want accountability. Because they’re perfect. Just ask them.

Dirty Traverse.

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4 thoughts on “The Case For Cameras: Sheriff Bensley Rejects Body Cams, Dash Cams and Accountability”

  1. Wow! Unbelievable that a sheriffs office wouldn’t want to protect themselves with cameras! With everything going on in the nation and the lawsuits – seems like following a best-practice would make sense to protect the officers (and community). If I was an officer, I would want a camera! I mean, we have them in the County building to ensure customer service standards are met – why not on the roads! Just to protect our officers and their careers! WTH!

    I say, I pay enough in taxes, let the Board fund it – oh wait – let’s wait for a lawsuit – it’s gonna happen….it’s just bad leadership —-all the way around – we need change…ugh…

  2. I have cameras that have caught GTSD’S illegally searching my home. They also brought a citizen with them to conduct the search.??
    No mention of this in any of the police reports.
    And when I asked about the search while the deputy was on the witness stand, under oath, He denied it.
    No, the sheriffs office and the prosecutor have themselves a great little game of saying whatever they want to bring whatever charges they want.
    Until the deputies have video accountability AND they turn them on.. we as citizens have to document ALL police encounters to ensure the truth of the matter is known.

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