A week after Freddie Gray’s autopsy report concluded his death was a homicide caused by a serious injury in a police van, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced that all police vans in Baltimore will be equipped with a camera in the near future. “We’re working through a process that will place cameras with recording capabilities in the backs of all our police vans, to ensure that we have a more complete record of what occurs there,” she said at press conference held at City Hall on Thursday.
Back in April, Gray suffered a “high-energy injury” in the back of a police van, during one of several stops. He was unbuckled the entire ride, and at one point, officers slid him on the floor. By the time police sought medical attention, Gray’s spine was severed and his voice box was crushed. Following a number of high-profile police killings of unarmed black men, his death fueled national outrage and shone a spotlight on longstanding systemic injustice in Baltimore.
But Gray was not the first person to suffer a fatal injury while in the back of a Baltimore Police Department vehicle. For years, the BPD has come under fire for its “rough rides,” during which officers drive recklessly while unbuckled people are violently tossed around police vans. Multiple people have been paralyzed, and one man died from pneumonia caused by his paralysis.
Ideally, fully-functioning cameras in police vans will reduce the number of rough rides, and prevent future deaths. But as with body cameras, vehicle cameras cannot guarantee officer accountability. Without strict regulations and transparency, officers can opt to turn the cameras off. Footage that’s in law enforcement possession can be manipulated to absolve the officers of alleged wrongdoing. And videos don’t guarantee officers will be taken to task for their actions, as was the case with the officers who killed Eric Garner in New York City, Jason Harrison in Dallas, and Oscar Grant in Oakland.
In February, Rawlings-Blake confirmed every officer will be equipped with a body camera by the end of 2015.