It has been almost a year and a half since Ariane McCree was shot dead by police in a Walmart parking lot, handcuffed and in possession of a gun, but his family still has a host of unanswered questions.
McCree, 28, had raced out of the Walmart in Chester, South Carolina, a small town an hour north of Columbia, after he was placed in handcuffs for allegedly stealing a $45 lock in November 2019, police said.
But exactly what happened next remains unclear in part because the responding officers didn’t activate their body cameras until after McCree, a Black father and former high school football star, was gunned down in a hail of police bullets.
“A lot of things do not add up,” his cousin, Tabatha Strother, told NBC News. “But we would have known a lot of this if the bodycam was on.”
Body cameras have been hailed as a key tool in enhancing transparency in policing and providing crucial information in use-of-force incidents.
The McCree case, along with the recent deadly police shootings of Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo and Ma’Khia Bryant highlight the importance of body camera video for transparency. Of the more than 12,000 local police departments around the country, roughly half have body cameras, but having body cameras doesn’t mean they’ll be used properly.
Experts say police departments need to implement three basic rules in order for the cameras to be effective: tell officers specifically when to hit record, ensure they announce they are filming, and outline clear consequences for when the rules are broken.
But many of the nation’s major police departments don’t follow these basic guidelines. Examining the body camera policies of 28 large police departments in a geographically representative array of U.S. states, along with the policy in Chester, NBC News found 45 percent gave specific instructions for when officers should start recording. Roughly 41 percent required officers to announce they’re recording. And only 34 percent clearly stated there are consequences for not recording.
“The cameras aren’t there just to be there,” said Danny Murphy, the deputy commissioner of compliance for the Baltimore Police Department.
“They’re meant to record interactions to foster accountability and public trust. And departments are setting themselves up for failure if they don’t have a real policy.”
Murphy knows this firsthand.
He was previously assigned to revamp the New Orleans Police Department after a Department of Justice investigation found a wide range of problems within it.
With Murphy’s oversight, the department installed a raft of new policies and procedures, including new guidelines on the use of body cameras.
New Orleans police began matching data from the body cameras with officers’ incident reports, checking the accuracy of how police interactions with the public were documented. Body camera footage also became part of the police department’s employee review process.
Murphy said the changes led to a sharp increase in officers following proper body camera procedures. Use-of-force complaints plunged by 60 percent – from 45 to 18 – between 2014 and 2018,…