In an era when police and deputies are facing questions about how they use force, the need for body cameras has never been greater.
Most cops do their job with respect and dedication, and for them, body cameras should be a form of protection against frivolous complaints.
But the technology is deployed unevenly.
In many cases, city police departments equip officers with the cameras and suburban sheriffs do not.
That’s true in Baton Rouge, where the city police have cameras but the sheriff’s office does not use them.
In New Orleans, the police department has deployed cameras for six years, but Jefferson Parish does not use them and as a result, the agency is facing growing questions about recent officer-involved shootings.
One suburban sheriff is breaking with the pattern, and his constituents should be glad.
Randy Smith, of St. Tammany Parish, announced recently that he will buy and operate body cameras for his deputies who work in the field. That includes 135 deputies in the patrol division and others who regulate traffic and serve court papers.
The sheriff says the effort will cost $1 million, which is a meaningful commitment for an agency whose total budget is $64 million.
"I don't care where we find the money, but we're going to find it," he said during an appearance in Slidell.
“Smaller agencies have done it. The State Police just did it, Mandeville just did it. Slidell is headed that way. ... it needs to be done," Smith said of body cameras. The Covington Police Department was the first north shore agency to have body cameras.
The sheriff correctly noted that the cameras protect the public and his officers.
The announcement was unexpected good news for a parish that prides itself on public safety.
But it was not the first time a sheriff promised body cameras. Jack Strain promised body cameras in 2015, and the office got as far as field testing the devices.
Strain lost the sheriff’s race to Smith that year, and it’s heartening to see the idea is making a comeback.
Body cameras are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain, because an agency needs the capacity to store all of the video they create.
But they are a sound investment, and we hope other sheriffs follow Randy Smith’s fine example.