September 20, 2017 / 10:44 PM / a year ago

St. Louis approves police body cameras ahead of more protests

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - St. Louis officials decided on Wednesday to supply police officers with body cameras for a year following nearly a week of protests touched off by the acquittal of a former police officer for the shooting death of a black man.

FILE PHOTO: St. Louis Police Department officers stage on the street in riot gear after a not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

The city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted 3-0 to hire Axon Enterprise Inc, a police body camera company, to supply its 1,200 officers with free software, hardware and training for a year.

The equipment would cost $1.2 million if officials in the city of 315,000 people decided to keep it beyond the trial year.

Axon officials declined to comment.

The panel, made up of President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed, Mayor Lyda Krewson and City Comptroller Darlene Green, also voted to ask other companies for estimates on supplying permanent body cameras.

“We needed this to heal and we need this for people to feel more confident in our police department,” Reed said during the meeting that, at times, dissolved into a shouting match with residents demanding the board approve the measure.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department tested body cameras from December 2015 through the beginning of 2016, but city officials decided it was too costly, Reed said.

Police will use the cameras under the test program but the police union will have to approve permanent body cameras, he said.

Cities that have body cameras have found a decrease in the use of force by police officers, fewer complaints against police and more community engagement with police, according to Reed.

The vote follows five days of protests that included demonstrators clashing with police, breaking windows and destroying property. Riots followed the 2014 shooting of a black teenager by a white officer in nearby Ferguson.On Wednesday several hundred demonstrators marched from a St. Louis park to an upscale shopping mall in suburban Clayton, where they were blocked from entering by a line of police officers.

The protests are in response to a judge’s decision to find former officer Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24.

An internal police car video that captured Stockley saying he was going to kill Smith during the pursuit was key part in the prosecutors’ case against the former officer.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Additional reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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