Bring on body cams and race discussion alike

The Obama administration’s efforts to “build trust” between police departments and minority communities give the impression Darren Wilson did something wrong in the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson.

Indeed, the White House seems to conduct itself as if the grand jury had indicted Wilson.

Regardless of the posturing, we like the Obama proposal to help departments nationwide equip officers with body cameras - the type of lapel-mounted device that Wilson wasn’t wearing during the Brown incident.

More likely, a body cam on Wilson would have provided much more convincing proof that the 6-foot-4, 300-pound teen was the aggressor and did not have his hands up in the “don’t shoot” posture that has come to mythologize the incident.

Days of street violence after the controversial shooting might have been avoided if video and audio had jibed with physical evidence and credible eyewitness testimony.

Many departments use body cams to record officers on the job. They have been shown to increase civility and transparency because citizens and police tend to be on their best behavior when they know cameras are present.

A 12-month study in Rialto, Calif., showed the complaint rate against officers fell from 24 percent to 3 percent, while use-of-force incidents — the type most likely to generate a citizen complaint — declined from 61 to 25.

If things get heated — as they did in Ferguson — audio and video footage can allow viewers to more objectively discern what happened.

Obama’s proposed Body Worn Camera Partnership Program would give a 50 percent match to state and local police who purchase them. The $263 million initiative is expected to help acquire 50,000 body cameras.

Honestly, in today’s culture, body cams should be as much standard police equipment as guns and handcuffs.

The overwhelming majority of peace officers are respectful to the communities they serve, and they respond appropriately in deadly-force situations. We would think those officers wouldn’t mind having their public interactions documented. They work for the public.

An officer who would balk at wearing a body cam rightfully would raise suspicion among his superiors. And because citizens are increasingly using smartphones and other mobile devices to film police encounters — a First Amendment-protected activity — any officer uncomfortable being on camera while on duty is facing an uphill battle.

Obama’s $263-million program probably won’t do much to build trust between police and minorities. Bridging that gap requires an honest national conversation about how police deal with criminality and antisocial behavior among minority populations — the very ingredients in the Ferguson shooting. This president — like many Americans, unfortunately — appears unready to have that conversation.

Until then, we should at least have the interactions between police and minorities more honestly documented on body cams.