Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton says the city will soon move toward equipping patrol cars with cameras that will record police interactions with the public. The city is close to hiring a consultant who will try to obtain the best deal for the government, Wharton said Friday.
Currently, most Memphis police vehicles are not equipped with cameras. The recent fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri prompted civil unrest and refocused attention on race relations, use of force and technologies that can hold officers accountable.
Wharton noted that the American Civil Liberties Union has endorsed the use of dashboard cameras. "And I don't know anybody who would not welcome it," he said. Wharton said cameras also protect officers against false claims and could reduce the city's legal defense costs.
He said the city is not considering another step in the technology, small cameras that police officers wear on their bodies. The ACLU has also called for widespread adoption of this practice.
The capital improvement budget that the City Council passed in June calls for the city to install video cameras and GPS tracking devices in 900 police cars. The budget includes $380,000 in funding for the project in the fiscal year that began July 1 and estimates that the cost will rise to $18.1 million by 2019 as the city pays for the equipment. The budget envisions a seven-year lease-to-own agreement, meaning the cost might rise in the years after 2019.
"I'm kind of shocked that we don't actually have cameras on all the cars," said John Marek, a criminal defense lawyer and a member of the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board, a committee that reviews police actions and was revived this year.
Marek also advocates adoption of wearable cameras for police and points to the experience of Rialto, California. A Wall Street Journal columnist recently wrote that in the first year after the cameras' introduction in that town, the use of force by officers declined 60 percent, and citizen complaints against police fell 88 percent. Individual cameras cost between $300 and $400 and are about the size of a pager.
Mike Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association, a labor union, said he doesn't have a strong opinion for or against dashboard cameras or wearable cameras.
A proposed city budget circulated earlier this year said lawsuits cost the police department $1.1 million in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The document estimated that for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that ended July 1, lawsuits would cost the police department more: $2.3 million.
Copyright 2014 - The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service