Cincinnati police chief: Body cameras should be required equipment

The killing of Sam DuBose in Cincinnati is not the first time the city has been rocked by an officer-involved shooting. Back in 2001, another event triggered five days of riots. Gwen Ifill speaks to Cincinnati police chief Jeffrey Blackwell about the city’s changes in policing and how the latest death has stirred up old feelings.

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    This is not the first time the city of Cincinnati has been caught in the crosswinds of an officer-involved shooting. The last time, however, was in 2001. And the city has since been considered an example of how to recover from community unrest.

    But after the killing of Samuel Dubose, those lessons may now have to be relearned. Tensing pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. Judge Megan Shanahan set his bond at $1 million, and much of the courtroom broke into applause.

  • WOMAN:

    Ladies and gentlemen, this is a courtroom. You will conduct yourselves at all times appropriately.


    Tensing's attorney, Stewart Mathews:

    STEWART MATHEWS, Lawyer for Ray Tensing: There are two sides to this thing, that the case will ultimately be tried and decided in a courtroom, and that that videotape is subject to more than the interpretation that's been put out there by the prosecutor.


    That videotape is the much-viewed footage from Tensing's body camera, taped during the July 19 traffic stop that ended with Tensing shooting Dubose in the head, killing him instantly. Tensing has said he feared for his life, and audio of his initial account was captured after he killed Dubose.

    RAY TENSING, University of Cincinnati Police Department: … produce a license. So, that's when he put it in drive and started taking off. I reached in, and I shot one round at him. He took off on me. I got my hand caught in the car.


    Prosecutors have scoffed at that claim, but defense attorney Mathews has pointed out that footage from a second officer's camera shows Tensing on the ground. Outside the courtroom today, a friend of Samuel Dubose proclaimed, "They can shoot me in my head too if Tensing's not convicted."

    KIMBERLY THOMAS, Friend of Samuel Dubose: He wasn't in fear of — you see how humble my brother was? My brother don't even raise his voice. He panicked when he seen that gun. He got a gun. I got my hands up. And he shot him cold-blooded in the head.


    Today's arraignment follows a peaceful rally in downtown Cincinnati last night. Hundreds took part in the Black Lives Matter protest, chanting slogans like "Hands up, don't shoot," a phrase coined nearly a year ago after killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

    Ray Tensing's next court date is set for August 19.

    Joining me now to discuss the fallout from the shooting and indictment is Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. He has been a driving force behind many of the changes that have taken place in that city in the years since another officer-involved shooting triggered five days of riots in 2001.

    Welcome, Chief Blackwell.


    Between 1999 and 2014, Cincinnati had a drop in officer-involved cases, I think of 69 percent, I saw, of use of force. What's happened? What changed? Did this bring you backwards?

  • JEFFREY BLACKWELL, Cincinnati Police Chief:

    Well, I think what happened — and I wasn't here. I was in Columbus at the time.

    But after the collaborative agreement and the civil unrest in 2001, we changed our strategic and our operational platform, if you will. We signed a historic collaborative agreement that involved the community, clergy, prosecutors, judges and police officers. I don't think any other city has engaged or encountered this type of document since then.

    I think that's been the driving force to the culture change in Cincinnati policing.


    Well, and I want to be clear and fair that the officer involved in this latest shooting is not a city of Cincinnati police officer, but a University of Cincinnati police officer.

    But it still must stir you have a lot of bad feelings and familiar old feelings. What has been the community reaction thus far?


    It has. You're right, Gwen. It has stirred up those feelings.

    And, quite naturally, we were concerned that we would have that sympathetic reflex, just like communities have had or have now after incidents in Baltimore and Cleveland and Ferguson and other cities in our nation. We have seen one egregious act after another, unfortunately, in policing.

    And make no mistake about it. We are in the most difficult policing environment in the history of this nation. And 99 percent of the police officers perform admirably. They do a wonderful job every day with compassion and character. But when we make mistakes, they are magnified like never before.

    And I am pleased that, when this mistake happened in our city by a university officer here, it was dealt with appropriately and in a timely fashion.


    Let me ask you about the appropriateness of how it was dealt with. We know — we saw the video footage. We have heard about the body camera that the officer was wearing.

    Did this prove to you that body cameras help to get to some sort of resolution more quickly, or did it prove that body cameras don't stop this sort of thing from happening?


    No, I think the first, Gwen. I think it absolutely proves that body cameras should be a required piece of equipment for police officers in this nation.

    And we are in the process here at Cincinnati P.D. of trying to implement a body camera platform ourselves. Body cameras help in two aspects. They make the police officer behave more professionally, but they also make the citizen encounter — the citizen behave more appropriately as well.

    And then they give us the much-needed evidence that is critical in situations like this. Candidly, I'm not sure that this would have resulted in an indictment had we not had that body camera footage.


    You have said in the past, because you have advised other cities in these situations — you have said in the past there is a cultural disconnect and that racism is often at the root of some of these conflicts. Do you think that's the case here as well?


    You know, I think it's a combination of things, Gwen.

    I think, first and foremost is that the officer lacked the necessary training from a baseline level, as well as the cultural competency training, to be engaged in urban policing. Our community is very urban. The University of Cincinnati sits in an urban space in our city. And by coming out of the university area and going down into one of our neighborhoods, I think it's a recipe for disaster when these officers don't quite understand how we police in the city. And it played out in a very negative way.


    The prosecutor said yesterday, among the other things, that this individual perhaps shouldn't have been a police officer.


    Well, you know, I don't know. I haven't had a chance to delve into his personnel file or his background history, but I will say this.

    Policing in a big city in this nation is far different than policing on a university campus or in a rural community, especially a city like Cincinnati that understands the proper way to police. We place engagement high on our list over enforcement. We are engaged with our community. We believe in transparency and relationship and truth-telling.

    And I remember being with you in Ferguson several months ago, and I said that, when you have community engagement, you get what I call relationship collateral. I think you have seen that play out here in our community since this verdict. We were expecting problems. I think other parts of the nation were looking at Cincinnati, thinking that we would turn into a Baltimore or a Cleveland that have experienced civil unrest.

    But we didn't. We didn't, and I'm very proud of our city. I'm very proud of the peace that prevailed in Cincinnati last night.


    And yet you have said every city is one incident away from a Ferguson or a Baltimore or a Cleveland, but not Cincinnati?


    You know, I hope not, Gwen. I really do. I was worried. I have to be honest with you. I haven't slept in a couple of days.

    And I do believe that every city, including my city here, is one incident away, if it's a bad incident and it's not dealt with appropriately. First and foremost, we hope, in policing, every chief that I know hopes that they're not sitting here talking to you about a riot in their city based on inappropriate police conduct.

    But the other piece that I think the nation is really honed in on is that, if we do have police misconduct, we need to be held accountable for our actions. We have got to stop this shroud of secrecy around policing, and we have got to be truthful in our investigations on police officers.


    Cincinnati Chief of Police Jeffrey Blackwell, thank you.


    Thank you, Gwen.

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