Tennessee Highway Patrol exploring body cameras

THP Body Camera

The Tennessee Highway Patrol is exploring equipping its troopers with body cameras, a move that would make it the first statewide law enforcement agency to do so.  The idea is included a document called a "Request For Information," something public agencies file when they are interested in receiving information about a possible purchase.  The document also asks for more information about new "pursuit vehicle video" equipment, the cameras included in cars that record incidents on the road.  Lt. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the THP, said the move was not an indication of a policy shift but rather a search for more cost-effective in-vehicle equipment.  "Our current system requires video to be downloaded and stored in a hard drive. The newer camera systems allow for cloud storage and many do come with body cameras.  We are exploring camera systems based on their cost efficiency to operate," Miller said.  However, the RFI itself indicates a broader purpose in pursuing the cameras.  "Body cameras are necessary for Trooper protection as well as accurate and complete documentation," the document states.  The RFI is no guarantee the THP will move forward with purchasing body cameras.  The document states the agency will conduct demonstrations on some equipment in April.  In theory, the agency would still need to solicit bids for any body camera contract before it would equip troopers with the devices.  Outcry in recent years over the deaths of people — most often young black men — at the hands of police officers around the country has spurred an ongoing national debate about whether body cameras should be necessary for all law enforcement. Supporters say the cameras provide more accountability and protection for law enforcement, offering evidence to show exactly what happens.  Opponents say there are privacy and financial concerns with cameras, opening the door to new expenses and questions of information that should or can be released.  In Tennessee, only a few agencies are using the cameras.  A Tennessean review in November 2015 found the Knox County Sheriff's Office and police departments in Gallatin, Millersville and Memphis among the entities using or testing the cameras.  The Franklin Police Department has discussed using the cameras but officers are not yet equipped.  Most notably, Memphis police have the cameras but the roll-out of the program has been marred by controversy.  According to The Commercial Appeal, there have been allegations a representative from the company that makes the cameras bribed a city official, that the equipping of the cameras has gone slowly and the department's policies on how and when to use the cameras don't stack up with national standards.  Officers at every precinct were slated to be equipped with the cameras by November.  Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has promised to include funding for body cameras when she releases her proposed budget later this spring.  During a December forum, Nashville District Attorney Glen Funk cautioned the cameras are not a cure-all.  "As a trial lawyer, as a prosecutor, I'm all in favor of having additional evidence in cases," he said.  "But we've got to be careful about rushing headlong into this thinking it's going to cure all ills, even an ill that hasn't happened in Nashville and I pray never happens in Nashville."  In past years, Democrat state lawmakers have proposed bills that would require all law enforcement agencies to wear the cameras. Those bills have never gained much traction in the Tennessee General Assembly, and no similar bill had been filed as of Monday morning.

2/14/17

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