BOZEMAN — In part three of our coverage about body cams on law enforcement officers in Montana, MTN New caught up with The Montana Racial Equity Project to hear their stance on the emerging technology.
The Executive Director of the organization weighed in on what the possibility of body cams in Bozeman could mean for officers and for residents who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
is a Black woman in Montana, who not only has experience living and working in racial equity and justice but also has a law enforcement background.
Heilman says the organization embraces the idea of body cams on law enforcement officers.
“Oh my gosh, I would feel so much more assured if I had a police contact, or a sheriff contact or a troopers contact and they had a body cam. I would feel so much safer,” she said.
For The Montana Racial Equity Project, officer-worn body cameras line up with the organization’s goals of promoting and creating opportunities for equity and justice.
As for the law enforcement officers, Heilman says they help with accountability.
And as for citizens, “It’s a thing for them to be able to say if they felt like there was something that they were handcuffed inappropriately, that they shouldn't have been handcuffed, that they were detained inappropriately that they were asked inappropriate questions then it's on the bodycam footage as well.”
Heilman acknowledges the high cost of the technology and the in-depth policy work required to run a body-cam program.
But says the expense is worth every penny. This is why the widespread messaging of “defunding the police” doesn’t line up with the organization’s values.
“First off, I’d love to find another term other than 'defund the police.' If it was something that was just basically 'reallocate some police funds' or something like that, it would be really really wonderful,” said Heilman.
Heilman says that does require a fundamental shift in how law enforcement conducts its businesses.
For example, calls related to mental health, homelessness, substance abuse, and poverty-related issues might be better off directed to other professionals, freeing up some funds for body cams, as well as officer time keeping the community safe.
“So it’s a process. It’s not anything that can happen right away. You have to gradually work towards this,” said Heilman.
“You can’t just flip a switch and say okay, we’re gonna take away half of your funding for officers. That’s ridiculous. But you can start chipping away at it. With determination with a plan.”
Heilman says The Montana Racial Equity Project is ready and eager to be a part of Bozeman’s community engagement program about body cams. And says the agency should consider the next step forward as well.
“I really like the idea of cameras on weapons on the firearms. I really do,” she added.