VOL. 131 | NO. 24 | Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Strickland: Police Body Camera Rollout Requires More Personnel
By Bill Dries
The rollout of police body cameras will mean hiring more people at the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office, according to Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.
Strickland told Memphis City Council members Tuesday, Feb. 2, that the police department wants to hire 10 more people and the prosecutor’s office has in mind 15 to 30 more people – all to handle the large volume of recordings that are expected to come with the cameras.
Strickland said his administration will have more details on that and the further rollout of the police body cameras in two weeks.
That includes the cost of the new personnel, which Strickland indicated he hopes to find in the police department’s existing budget.
Strickland postponed the rollout last month and has not set a new timeline yet, citing the need for more preparation.
Meanwhile, council members questioned interim Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings closely about policies for the cameras, including the conditions under which officers could turn them off.
It was the full council’s first public session with Rallings, who began his new duties Monday.
Council members said their questions were based on reactions from constituents over the weekend following the fatal police shooting of Johnathan Bratcher last week in South Memphis.
An officer who was not involved in the shooting turned off his body camera, according to Rallings and Strickland.
“Why is it that whenever it is something that is heartfelt in the African-American community, it seems as if those concerns go unnoticed?” councilman Berlin Boyd asked.
He also faulted Strickland’s initial response after Bratcher’s shooting. Strickland in a prepared statement said the shooting was “a reminder of the dangers our officers face on a daily basis.”
“We are moving and we are going to get it done,” Strickland said Tuesday of the body cameras. “We are going to be very transparent about the entire process.”
Strickland also noted that he was among those on the council who voted for body cameras.
“We need to have some guide of how that is going to work,” councilwoman Patrice Robinson said, referring to reaction she’s heard from constituents. “They believe that if they can turn them off whenever they want, what is the purpose of having them?”
Rallings said turning off a camera in some cases would be a violation of police policy that he would deal with on a case-by-case basis.
“I don’t want an officer videoing his lunch conversation,” he added. “We know that there are going to be some exigent circumstances where an officer is worried more about safety than popping that camera on.”
Rallings also compared the rollout of the cameras to the conversion of the Pyramid.
“This is like the Pyramid changing from a coliseum to Bass Pro,” he said. “There were a bunch of ups and downs. … I think the citizens think there is some conspiracy against them. Our whole pushing the brakes is to make sure that we are protecting the citizens and that we don’t lose valuable evidence.”
In other committee action Tuesday, the administration announced it will hire 30 new part-time 911 dispatchers for city police and fire to cut call wait times and plans to have those dispatchers on the job by the end of May.