The city is slowly moving forward with body and car cameras for its police officers, but a timetable for full implementation is still uncertain.
That was the word from Mayor Jim Strickland at a public forum about body cameras held at the University of Memphis Wednesday afternoon. The city is in the midst of a five-year, $25 million project to outfit the Memphis Police Department with body-worn cameras for officers as well as in-car cameras for the cruisers.
In addition to Strickland, the forum featured Shelby County D.A. Amy Weirich, MPD Deputy Chief Jim Harvey, Asst. D.A. Tom Henderson, state Deputy Atty. Gen. Janet Kleinfelter and Olliette Murry-Drobot, head of the Family Safety Center. The forum was primarily for criminal justice professionals, but also included members of the media and police officers from neighboring jurisdictions.
“Our goal is to have the next rollout at the Crump Station this month,” Strickland said. “Beyond that, we don’t know.”
City officials had initially expected the cameras to be in use by late 2015, but Strickland “pressed pause” when he took office Jan. 1.
“Body cameras are important. And doing it right is important. That’s why in January, I pressed the pause button on the rollout of body cams,” he said. “We have now gone a long way to having these people and policies in place.”
Right now, three officers have been field-testing the cameras, officials said. By the end of April, 10 more officers on a day shift at Crump will begin wearing them.
Also, about 150 squad cars have already had cameras installed, and Harvey said they hope to have a total of 400 ready to go by July.
From Nov. 1 through April 1, those three officers collected 1,847 videos, police said, for a total of 375 hours. The officers averaged about 12 videos a day.
The squad car video counts, however, are voluminous. So far, those 150 cars have led to 46,942 videos over the same period, accounting for 12,309 hours of recordings. Each video averages almost 16 minutes.
That’s just a taste of what’s to come, Asst. D.A. Tom Henderson told those at the forum.
“The bottom line is, there’s going to be a lot of new evidence. New evidence is going to require a lot of new effort and new resources,” he said.
As part of those new resources, Weirich has proposed hiring 15 new “video paralegals” to handle all that footage. The first such person started work this week, she said, and her budget request to the County Commission for later this month includes money to hire more.
MPD is also hiring 10 video analysts, Harvey said. They’ve already received applications and expect to start interviewing candidates in the next few days.