NASW manager writes column for Orlando Sentinel

Wilson provides social work view on officers wearing body cameras

Melvin WilsonMelvin Wilson, manager of NASW’s Department of Social Justice and Human Rights, penned a guest column in December in the Orlando Sentinel titled “Knowing eyes are watching could reduce police abuses.”

NASW recommends that law enforcement officers wear body cameras, Wilson wrote, a recommendation that came about in the aftermath of the decision by two separate grand juries not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

“These devices can help to alleviate conflicts with law enforcement that may turn violent,” Wilson said. “It also protects police themselves in the face of accusations.”

According to NASW’s Public Relations Manager Greg Wright, the Orlando Sentinel regularly runs guest columns that feature the pros and cons of a topic discussed in mainstream media — in this example, the use of police body cameras.

“We contacted the Orlando Sentinel and offered to write a column on the issue from a social work perspective, and they accepted” Wright said. “The column posted online on Dec. 31.”

Wilson is currently the NASW lead on responding to criminal justice and law enforcement issues, and said he wanted to write the column for the Sentinel to highlight the importance of body cameras.

“The use of video surveillance of policing is not new. The reason for adopting the now ubiquitous ‘dash cams’ that came into prominence during the ‘90s mirrored today’s rationale for the universal use of body cameras,” Wilson wrote in the article. “Namely that law enforcement claimed video evidence would protect police from citizen claims of excessive violence, while reform advocates argued that surveilling police would reduce excessive use of force and racial profiling.”

Brown, an 18-year-old black male, was shot in Ferguson, Mo., by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after the two engaged in a struggle, resulting in Brown’s death. Garner, also a black male, was placed in a chokehold by NYPD police officer Daniel Pantaleo in Staten Island, N.Y., after Garner was suspected of selling cigarettes. According to medical reports, the chokehold was partly responsible for Garner’s death.

Wilson said both cases have sparked concerns about racial profiling, and law enforcement officers using extreme and unnecessary measures to “restrain or place individuals in custody.”