The American Civil Liberties Union launched a program Wednesday to give free video cameras to some residents of high-crime neighborhoods to help them monitor police after years of misconduct complaints.
The ACLU of Eastern Missouri began working on the project last year after television crews broadcast video of officers punching and kicking a suspect who led police on a car chase.
"The idea here is to level the playing field, so it's not just your word against the police's word," said Brenda Jones, executive director of the ACLU chapter.
The ACLU has given cameras and training to about 10 residents in north St. Louis, a high-crime, low-income part of the city that members said is plagued by police misconduct. The group hopes to expand the program to 50 to 100 residents.
Police spokesman Richard Wilkes declined to comment when asked how the program might affect police relations with the public.
"We don't have any opinions or feelings about it one way or another," Wilkes said. "Hopefully it records positive interactions between the police and the community."
Former police Sgt. K.L. Williams is overseeing the training, teaching residents how to videotape officers from a safe distance without interrupting arrests or searches.
"The citizens are not there to interfere with any police contacts," Williams said.
ACLU spokesman Redditt Hudson said the program will also include free workshops to teach residents about their rights when approached by police.
Project organizers have worked closely with police to make sure they are aware of the program's goals, Jones said.
The ACLU declined to release the names of people participating in the video monitoring.
Police conduct was highlighted in January 2006, when Edmon Burns was arrested after officers in suburban Maplewood noticed a man in a van acting suspiciously. They pursued him into St. Louis as the chase was broadcast live on television. It was not clear from the video whether Burns resisted officers.
Three of the officers were from Maplewood, and one was from the St. Louis Police Department.
Burns, 33, had a long criminal record. He was treated at a hospital and released.
The FBI investigated and handed the case over to the Justice Department, which concluded last month that there was insufficient evidence to charge the officers with violating civil-rights laws. Prosecutors said their decision was not an exoneration of the officers.