Why would SWAT officers not wear body-worn cameras?

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Rochester, NY (WROC)- An investigation is underway into an officer involved shooting in the city of Rochester that left one man dead, but many are questioning how transparency works when officer involved are not required to wear body-worn cameras.

The shooting took place around 9:30 p.m. Friday in the area of Hudson Avenue and Durnan Street. Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said a Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT team, was tracking a suspect wanted for assault, attempted murder, and criminal possession of a weapon. He was believed to be involved in four shootings during a 24-hour period.

Chief Herriott-Sullivan said when officers attempted to take the man into custody, he fled on foot through streets and backyards. The Chief said the man opened fire on officers and according to her, they opened fire on him in return. The man was shot multiple times and pronounced dead at the hospital.

“Clearly this is someone that we considered very high risk and that is why we had the SWAT team involved,” said Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.

Accused of assault and attempted murder, the suspect, a man in his mid 20’s, was followed by the Special Weapons and Tactics for hours before the fatal shooting.

“We followed him for several hours trying to minimize the danger to people and that was our first opportunity to do it when he was by himself,” said Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.

When officers attempted an arrest, they say the man open fired and police fired back. An investigation is underway, but there is not any body-worn camera footage of the incident, because SWAT officers don’t wear body-worn cameras.

The police chief says this is protocol.

“We don’t do that for certain, specific special assignments. It’s in our protocol that special assignment people, like I’m sure you can understand why scuba wouldn’t want to wear it, but there are just specialty assignments where it’s just not conducive to do that and there are different reasons for that,” said Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.

Public safety expert and former RPD chief Dr. Cedric Alexander explaining this is a policy sometimes used to keep tactical procedures a secret.

“That group is made up of a well-trained group of police officers that go beyond the standard training,” said Dr. Cedric Alexander, public safety expert. “Certainly, in many agencies that do not have body cameras, there are concerns that the tactics and the movements could be copy-catted by bad guys.”

“That is, somethings often times you may not want to become part of public knowledge because that means that bad guys certainly can prepare themselves for the type of tactics that may be utilized to enter a building, to enter a house, even the communication style of those SWAT officers,” said Dr. Alexander.

Community leader like Rev. Lewis Stewart with the United Christian Leadership Ministry, is calling for a change to that policy.

“It is incumbent upon them, based upon the state of mistrust in the community, between law enforcement and the community, that even the swat team should be wearing body cameras,” said Rev. Stewart. “We want transparency. We want to see the footage because only by seeing the camera footage can the facts be verified.:

This shooting comes less than a month after Rochester police fatally shot a man on Glasser Street.
The chief says she understands public concern, but she believes this incident was done in a way that maximized public safety.

“So, it makes sense to me some of the responses that we’re getting. But if you have people that pull out a gun and just start shooting and don’t care who is in the vicinity, if there are kids around, it’s difficult to manage a situation like that. I’m proud of our officers that they slowed it down, they took several hours and followed this person for quite a bite a time to minimize danger to the community,” said Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan.

The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, following standard procedure. The New York State Attorney General’s Office has jurisdiction over the investigation, standard procedure following any police involved shooting. 

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