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Editorial: Cameras can help cops and the public

Nassau County Patrolman Sam Ferrandino demonstrates the new

Nassau County Patrolman Sam Ferrandino demonstrates the new dashboard camera system on July 17, 2014. It is installed in his patrol vehicle. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Having cameras and microphones record the interactions of police officers is a policy that's positive for everyone.

Nassau County is testing dashboard cameras, and it plans a similar pilot program with body cameras. Suffolk has the dash cameras only for drunken-driving enforcement. For civilians who feel they have been mistreated by cops, such cameras can prove their claims. For officers who have a confrontation with the public and believe they acted appropriately, the cameras can prove their point. Beyond addressing dust-ups, video and audio recordings can deter them.

In Rialto, California, a city of 100,000 people, body cameras were introduced in 2012. In the following 12 months, complaints against officers dropped 88 percent. Use-of-force incidents by officers decreased almost 60 percent. Those statistics gained attention when they were quoted by a judge who, in a ruling on "stop and frisk" procedures in New York City, suggested body cameras would help. They would have, but the idea was scoffed at by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Over the past few weeks, though, with a man apparently choked to death by police on Staten Island and a nearly naked grandmother dragged into a hallway by cops in Brooklyn, we've seen how much cameras can tell us.

Imagine how much we might know about the alleged beating of Kyle Howell of Westbury by a Nassau officer in April if the officer had worn a body camera. Imagine how hard it would be for a cop to shake down half a dozen Hispanic drivers, as one Suffolk officer has been accused of, if he wore the equipment. Cameras are expensive, but the money can come from forfeiture funds if the expenditure is handled properly. And as we learn every time a Long Island municipality has to pay out a settlement because a cop is accused of going too far, not having the cameras can be pretty expensive, too.