‘It’s about transparency and trust’ -- Inside Detroit police’s decision to quickly release body-cam video

Chief says he was ‘looking at the needs of the community to further our goal of transparency,’

DETROIT – All eyes are on Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where the sheriff’s department and a judge have ruled to not release video of deputies shooting and killing Andrew Brown Jr.

READ: Judge won’t release videos of deputies shooting Black man

Brown was shot and killed as deputies were serving an arrest warrant. Witnesses said he was driving away when deputies fired at him multiple times.

Since that day, Brown’s family has only been able to see what they’re calling a heavily edited snippet of the video.

As protests continue, some believe a decision Detroit police made over summer to quickly release body-cam video of a shooting helped stop a potential riot.

As tension rises in North Carolina, more department are quickly putting video out and are pointing to Detroit as a reason why.

Police in Columbus, Ohio released the body-cam footage of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant being fatally shot. The video showed it looked like the teen was about to stab another person at the time. Where some police departments once dragged their feet releasing video, other departments are getting video out to the public as soon as possible.

“Detroit started that,” said former DPD assistant chief Steve Dolunt. “I believe Craig was the first one to do that. Kudos for doing it.”

In July 2020, Hakim Littleton was shot and killed by Detroit police officers. Rumors quickly spread that Littleton was unarmed. As crowds began to gather, Detroit Police chief James Craig made the call to release the officer’s body camera video, which captured Littleton firing at police.

“It definitely has an impact. There was about to be a riot over there. The video came out, people said, ‘What is this?’ and people began to operate with the truth,” said Pastor Mo Hardwick. “In these times, you better come out with it within minutes, up to an hour and come out with it.”

“Putting out the video was the absolute right thing to do,” Craig said. “As a matter of routine, we pull the video as quickly as we can. It certainly became an urgent situation, given the false information that was put out. An angry group of protestors had converged on the crime scene.”

He said he is often asked about the call to rush the video out by departments around the country.

“People wanted to know why Detroit didn’t burn when other cities were burning and I point to that as one example,” Craig said.

READ: Detroit authorities, community leaders working together to keep protests peaceful

Transparency and trust are the goals, even if video shows an officer mishandling a confrontation. He said getting the video out was risky, but almost a necessity.

“The risk is the officer has a right to due process, but also looking at the needs of the community to further our goal of transparency, it is a balancing act at times,” Craig said.”

Craig said police cameras need to be on. If not -- and there’s an incident -- the trust they’ve worked to build is damaged. He and Hardwick said it has taken 15 years for the police to develop trust and relationships within Detroit communities.

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