NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville already set aside $15 million to launch police body cameras next year, but officials in the police department and district attorney’s office said they’ll need millions more to manage and monitor thousands of hours of video footage.
According to projections provided to Mayor David Briley’s administration, police said they need to hire 12 employees specializing in technology and public records requests. District Attorney Glenn Funk said he needs 49 additional staffers to handle a glut of new video evidence in criminal court cases.
All together, the two agencies expect they’ll need more than $11 million for new personnel to handle the data in the first year, with more than $7 million in annual costs after that. Additional downstream needs could become clear as the city moves closer to implementation in 2019.
But it is unclear where that money will come from.
“Frankly, the mayor is looking for money to fund this,” police Chief Steve Anderson said. “There’s got to be a funding source, and the mayor recognizes that that’s an issue that he has to address.”
Briley has a limited timeline to decide on the extra funding.
The city is in the midst of the procurement process to decide which company will win the contract to supply the body cameras. The winning bid is scheduled to be awarded in April, and Briley has told Anderson he wants the body cameras in place by the fall of 2019.
It is an inconvenient time for the city to spend millions of dollars on extra staffers. A 2018 budget squeeze meant no cost-of-living raises for many employees and that Metro Nashville Public Schools didn’t receive all of the funds requested by the school board.
In a speech Monday, Briley acknowledged the difficult budget process but disputed the notion that the city is in a budget crisis.
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He’s up for re-election next year, and the issue of body cameras has emerged as a hot-button issue in Nashville in the wake of two fatal shootings of young black men by officers.
Nashville’s police union is generally supportive of body cameras, but the union leader said he was concerned the project would pull funding from other areas of the city.
“We know that they will show the public that our officers are doing the right thing every day,” James Smallwood, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in an email. “However, our concern has always been on how the implementation will affect the Nashville economy.
“Clearly, this will be a very expensive project for Nashville and we are concerned on how it will impact, not only Metro employees, but the Nashville taxpayers as well.”
Briley’s administration acknowledged there are an array of issues to be sorted out before the body cameras are fully implemented. Briley’s spokeswoman Judith Byrd said the mayor has asked each participating department to submit estimated costs. Those estimates aren’t final because the program is still under development, according to Byrd.
The estimates also have been fluctuating, Byrd said.
“With privacy, costs, transparency and data storage concerns, the introduction of the body camera program is something that requires significant planning as well as community input,” Byrd said.
The district attorney is requesting the lion’s share of new staffers, and money for more office space, because video footage collected in serious criminal cases will need to be reviewed as evidence. According to one document, the office expects to review more than 91,000 hours of footage per year.
Funk said his office has projected high personnel costs for the project for the last three years. It will be necessary to “review, redact and prepare for trial footage for body cameras.”
“If we’re dealing with someone’s liberty then somebody’s got to look at it,” Funk said.
Much of that evidence also will need to be turned over to defense attorneys during the discovery process.
Police said they will need information technology experts to maintain the equipment and data, as well as staff to accommodate an expected swell in public records requests.
Many cities across the country have turned to body cameras to address allegations of racial bias among police. Advocates say the footage could provide pivotal evidence of officer misconduct during shootings, traffic stops and other police business.
Nashville nonprofit Gideon’s Army called for dashboard video and audio recording of police in its 2016 report “Driving While Black,” which said an analysis of 2 million city traffic stops suggested severe and institutional racial discrimination on the force.
Former Mayor Megan Barry committed to funding body cameras in 2016 and included funding to buy them in her 2017 spending plan.
Calls for body cameras were amplified by the shooting death of Jocques Clemmons in February 2017. A white officer shot and killed Clemmons, who was black, as he ran from a traffic stop.
Prosecutors said the officer was acting in self-defense because Clemmons had raised a gun. Advocates said a body camera would have provided a clearer picture of what happened.
Those calls were renewed in July after a white officer shot and killed Daniel Hambrick, who was black, as he was running away during a foot chase. Grainy video from a nearby school shed light on the shooting, but protesters said a body camera would have been more effective.
Community activist Theeda Murphy, who organized on behalf of Justice for Jocques, a group created after Clemmons’ death, said she has complicated views about implementing police body cameras.
The cameras should be installed, she said, but they are only part of the solution and will only be as effective as the policy governing them. Murphy said she’d be watching to see if officers were allowed to turn their cameras off and if all of the footage will be available for the public to review.
But Murphy said she is skeptical of any police department estimates regarding the cost of implementing the cameras.
“Do I feel like they’re putting forth any type of estimate in good faith? No. No, I don’t,” Murphy said. “In general I don’t trust them. I know that the police department — not so much the DA’s office — has been resentful of every attempt to reform.”
From The Tennessean