VOL. 131 | NO. 84 | Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Commission Debates Full Bill for Police Body Cameras
By Bill Dries
Most Shelby County commissioners expressing an opinion say they favor body cameras for Memphis Police.
But the opinions begin to differ significantly when comes to who pays for the back-office system to handle the recordings and how much the whole bill will be.
Commissioners put off a vote Monday, April 25, on funding related to police in-car and body cameras for the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich is seeking $143,378 to fill positions in her office and buy equipment directly related to keeping the camera recordings and reviewing them.
The commission voted 10-1 to send the item back to committee in May for a discussion that will center on what the larger plan is for more than just equipping Memphis Police officers with the cameras.
The debate Monday among commissioners also involved whether former Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s attempt to roll out the body cameras before the October 2015 city elections has left current Mayor Jim Strickland and county government with a political and logistical mess.
“This is really a funding issue in my opinion,” commissioner Heidi Shafer said, asking if state government would help fund the system.
She also questioned what the policies are for such crucial questions as when officers turn the cameras on and off.
“Technology run amok can be very, very dangerous,” she said.
Shafer also referred to Strickland “cleaning up the messes of previous administrations.”
Soon after taking office in January, Strickland said “the full implementation of body cams was not carefully thought out.” He also said the process was rushed with little thought for the cost or the impact it would have on work flow for the District Attorney General’s office.
Weirich has said Wharton’s administration moved toward buying the cameras without considering the impact on her office.
But commissioner Van Turner, on Monday, said there were reasons for Wharton to act rapidly in 2015 given a series of fatal and controversial police shootings across the country that came to include Memphis in July 2015 with the death of Darrius Stewart.
“Cities were on fire. People were protesting. This was not like this was one instance,” Turner said. “This was a culmination of several instances throughout and all across the United States of America. … There was a reason to move very quickly on body cameras because we didn’t want Memphis to be burning like other cities were burning at the time.”
Commissioner Mark Billingsley said the delay doesn’t amount to opposition to body cameras. He defined it as a financial issue.
“We’re investing in something and we don’t know where the end is in sight,” Billingsley said. “This is a massive investment.”
Commissioner Walter Bailey, who ultimately was the only commissioner to vote against the delay, cited the city’s rising homicide rate as the urgency to start some kind of funding.
“We can’t afford the luxury of parliamentary discussions and nit-picking,” he said. “We’ve got to show some courage. These agencies are crying out for help. … I don’t see what the problem is. Let’s move on it.”