Memphis’ Mayor Considers Police Body Cameras

October 8, 2014

Memphis’ mayor is asking the consultant who is helping the Tennessee city buy video cameras for police car dashboards to also look into purchasing body cameras for officers.

According to The Commercial Appeal, Mayor A C Wharton Jr. says that giving police officers cameras they would wear on their bodies could help protect citizens and shield officers against false claims of excessive force.

“If I could knock 20, 30 percent off the lawsuit settlements in questionable cases, it would be well worth the investment over a year or two,” he said.

Wharton mentioned other benefits, including the possibility that live feeds from an officer’s camera could be beamed to a command center. Wharton said the police department would have to create policies that govern the use of the cameras, including when officers could turn them on and off.

The city has budgeted $26.9 million over seven years to install dashboard cameras in 900 police cars.

“I told them, since we’re already in the market out there, go ahead,” Wharton said. “Incrementally, I don’t think the cost is going to be much more.”

Wharton in August discussed the purchase of dashboard cameras with reporters and said the city had no plans to purchase body cameras. City Council member Kemp Conrad is among those who have called for body cameras.

Conrad said he welcomes Wharton’s support for such cameras and believes they decrease crime and keep police officers safer.

“It adds a level of accountability all the way around when you know that what you’re doing is going to be recorded,” he said.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department has had all their school resource officers outfitted with body cameras since school started in August. There are plans to have all the department’s officers get the cameras soon.

John Marek, a Memphis attorney and a member of a local law enforcement review board, said the cameras will help attorneys in court.

“So many times it comes down to one person’s word against another,” Marek said. “And a citizen’s word against a police officer in court is usually not a good thing for the citizen.”

Michael Williams, head of the Memphis police union, has said that he doesn’t have a position for or against the cameras.

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