NPS law enforcement

Grand Teton National Park law enforcement officers have begun using body-worn cameras again, a technology that has become standard in the law enforcement industry.

Body cameras capture video and audio, allowing police to corroborate events and for members of the public to do the same — to verify police claims and hold officers accountable.

The program was reinstated Oct. 1 amid greater attention on the national park after the summer’s high-profile missing person cases of Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, Cian McLaughlin and Robert Lowery.

“The use of body-worn cameras by our law enforcement rangers demonstrates our commitment to responsible public service and brings our Grand Teton National Park law enforcement program in line with local law enforcement agencies who are currently using body-worn cameras,” said Chief Ranger Erika Jostad in a park press release.

Park law enforcement had previously used body cameras, but data storage and aging equipment led rangers to suspend their use in 2018, according to the press release. Modern equipment and more efficient use should limit those problems returning, officials stated.

Only commissioned law enforcement rangers will use body cameras, and they will not be activated during informational conversations with visitors. Instead, rangers will only use the cameras “to gather information during law enforcement contacts to enhance accountability and transparency, collect evidence and document law enforcement actions,” the release stated.

Body cameras have become more widespread amid anti-law enforcement tensions in other parts of the country, especially after cases where the actual events do not match official police records.

For example, Minneapolis Police first described in a press release George Floyd’s death using the following description, with no mention of an officer holding Floyd down with his knee: “Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

Several years earlier, in a prominent case that led to nationwide protests, Chicago Police described the homicide of Laquan McDonald as an officer defending himself by shooting McDonald once in the chest as he lunged toward officers with a knife.

After a prolonged Freedom of Information case, activists and journalists obtained the police body-worn camera video of an officer shooting McDonald 16 times as he was walking away from officers. In 2018, Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald, was convicted of second-degree murder.

Alexander has reported on courts and crime since June 2021. A fan of all things outdoors, he came to Teton County after studying journalism at Northwestern University.

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