Play Gloria: Will of voters is upheld for once with bodycam votes

Editorial
By Gloria Lloyd

Too often St. Louis County voters have voted for something and then had their wishes ignored.

But as of last week, that isn’t the case with body cameras for the St. Louis County Police Department, a key promise county officials set out before the April 2017 vote for the Proposition P half-cent countywide sales tax.

Prop P mostly went to fund raises for the department, which were granted nearly two years ago.

And as readers of The Call know well, it also is funding the purchase and construction of a new Affton Southwest Precinct.

But one of the key bullet points in the proposal from county police Chief Jon Belmar was that he would buy body cameras for county police officers. It’s one of the many reasons this newspaper endorsed Prop P.

From my standpoint, the most important vote on this issue happened in April 2017.

Voters already weighed in on this issue in shocking numbers.

Since then, everyone seemed to agree that body cameras were a good thing, including the chief, the department, county executives and even critics, who consistently said cameras could provide more accountability.

And unlike police unions for some other departments, in this case the St. Louis County Police Association got behind body cameras.

With all that in mind, you might be surprised to learn that this vote was actually a close call.

With the council down to five members and needing four votes to pass legislation, 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, and 4th District Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, were by no means automatic yes votes.

That’s because some longtime police activists, even those who once criticized the Police Department for not having body cameras, are rethinking them.

They believe they pose privacy issues to civilians, who invite police officers into their houses at their worst moments but don’t necessarily want the later prying eyes of reporters or the public to see what happened.

Body cameras won’t solve every issue, and they may cause some.

But overall, it’s clearly better to have them than not have them.

And with that in mind, it’s excellent that Clancy and Gray explored these issues with due diligence and still came to the right decision with the rest of the council, ensuring that the will of the voters was heard.