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After unrest over shooting, Ferguson police now wear body cameras

A protester kicks a tear gas canister back towards police after protests in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown turned violent near Ferguson, Missouri August 17, 2014. 
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A protester kicks a tear gas canister back towards police after protests in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown turned violent near Ferguson, Missouri August 17, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Victoria Cavaliere

(Reuters) - Police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, have begun wearing body cameras after weeks of unrest over the shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a white officer and sharply differing accounts of the incident, officials said on Sunday.

Michael Brown, 18, was shot multiple times by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, sparking nearly three weeks of angry protests in the St. Louis suburb and drawing global attention to race relations in the United States.

Law enforcement and witnesses gave differing accounts of what transpired before Brown was shot, with police saying the teen had struggled with the officer. Witnesses say Brown held up his hands and was surrendering when he was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

The discrepancy has revived calls for officers across the county to be outfitted with body cameras to help capture an accurate record of police-involved incidents.

The policy has the support of scores of law enforcement agencies and the American Civil Liberties Union. Opponents say the cameras could be an invasion of privacy and deter people from approaching police with a tip.

During protests on Saturday, Ferguson officers began wearing small body cameras clipped to their uniforms that recorded crowds, conversations and even some taunts by demonstrators, a police official said on Sunday.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the cameras have been well received by officers.

"They are really enjoying them," he said. "They are trying to get used to using them."

The cameras were donated by two video surveillance companies, Safety Visions and Digital Ally. In a statement on its website, Safety Vision said it donated the cameras in the hopes that they could bring transparency to future investigations.

"The city of Ferguson has gone through an unfortunate series of events and Safety Vision body cameras and flashlight DVR will assist in capturing prima facie evidence for investigations involving vandalism, looting, and shots fired," the statement said.

Some stores were looted in nightly protests, and police responded with riot gear and moved in military equipment to try to quell the turmoil.

A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence about Brown's killing and the U.S. Justice Department has opened its own investigation.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Sandra Maler)

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