Daily Herald opinion: Naperville police shooting a reminder of the need for body, dash cameras

This editorial is the consensus opinon of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

A Naperville police officer was conducting a routine traffic stop when suddenly he was confronted by a man armed with a hatchet.

The unprovoked attack happened June 3 in broad daylight on a quiet suburban street on the city's Northwest side. It ended with the officer shooting and killing the man, later identified as 28-year-old Edward C. Samaan from Naperville.

Aside from a short news release, authorities said little about the event. But last week, Naperville police released more than 45 minutes of recordings from the officer's body-worn and squad car cameras, which captured the fatal encounter. The city even posted the videos on its YouTube channel.

We have spoken out in support of dashboard and body cameras for police before, and the deadly shooting in Naperville is another reminder of why the recording devices are vital tools for police.

Watching the videos, it's clear the Naperville officer had to make a split-second decision to draw and fire his sidearm.

Roughly 11 minutes into the traffic stop, according to the video record, the officer is standing outside the driver's-side window of a stopped car and speaking to the driver when a second vehicle pulls up and stops next to him. When the silver sedan stops, Samaan emerges from the car and immediately charges the officer with a hatchet in his right hand. The officer fires his handgun six times with both hands on the weapon as he moves backward.

Samaan drops face-first to the street before rolling over onto his back.

Viewers of the footage can watch the aftermath. They can hear and see officers and medical personnel arrive on the scene and interact as the investigation begins. The video gives them not just insight into a single episode, but into the broader nature of police work in general.

It remains unknown why Samaan, who died at an area hospital, rushed the officer with a hatchet. Hopefully, an investigation by DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin's office and the county's Metropolitan Emergency Response and Investigative Team will answer that and other questions.

But the body-worn and squad car cameras, and the police department's decision to release the video promptly, help address a host of questions that could have simmered and grown controversial. It lets the public see the event immediately, so the deeper investigation can continue without distraction.

Naperville started issuing body cameras to its officers just last month. As a result, the police department could provide visual documentation of what unfolded between Samaan and the officer.

As part of a sweeping criminal justice reform law, all police officers in Illinois must wear body cameras by 2025. We look forward to more suburban departments equipping their officers with the devices because of the transparency and accountability they provide.

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