GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Despite bipartisan efforts by lawmakers, body-worn cameras are sparse among Michigan State Police.
MSP says it’s a money issue, but some lawmakers say the funds can be found.
On Monday, a trooper responding to a breaking and entering call near Hamilton shot and killed 31-year-old Virgil-Lee Taylor, saying there was a struggle. Taylor was unarmed, but witnesses said he grabbed for the trooper’s gun.
But Taylor’s family says he was in an emotional crisis and went to his daughter’s house for help before he was killed. His parents are now pushing for all officers to wear bodycams.
“Bodycams are without question best practice for police,” state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, said. “They protect citizens, they protect officers and give everyone the opportunity to have more information about what happened.”
Irwin said he has been pushing for body cameras for the past six years. Incidents like Taylor’s death have moved the issue back into the spotlight. The trooper who killed him was not wearing a bodycam and his cruiser’s dashboard camera was pointing away from where the shooting happened.
Currently, MSP has 205 bodycams among its 3,000 employees, according to department records. While some of those employees work desk jobs, there are still only a small fraction of troopers who wear bodycams on the job.
When News 8 asked why, this was the department’s response:
“What it would take to equip the entire department is costly,” an emailed statement read. “The legislature appropriates all funding for specific purposes. If we received an appropriation to cover the full expense, which we estimate to be $3.1 million initially and $3.8 million ongoing/annually, we would implement the body worn camera program statewide.”
“I don’t agree with that,” Irwin said. “I think they could make room for bodycams in their current budget. I think they could make that a priority. I wish they would come to the Legislature and ask more clearly for that.”
Irwin argued MSP can’t afford not to implement bodycams.
“Some of these departments are paying out huge, multimillion-dollar lawsuits fairly regularly can say with a straight face that body cameras are too expensive. I just don’t understand their math,” he said.
Irwin and other lawmakers introduced a series of bipartisan police reform bills last month. Included in Irwin’s bill is required continuing education for officers as well as mental health services for law enforcement. It’s another effort to prevent deaths like Taylor’s.
“My hope is this session with all the great bipartisan work we have been doing, we can move forward and put legislation on the governor’s desk,” Irwin said.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the matter Thursday.