Metro Nashville plans to roll out body cameras on all officers in 2019, adding another costly layer of regulation to law enforcement.
A few officers began testing body cams last week, Nashville Public Radio said. The city and community advocates have pushed for this oversight since at least 2016. The need to follow detailed city procurement procedures with specific timelines in the request for proposal is one reason the process is taking time.
The program involves multiple rounds of solicitations, according to the city’s RFP. The plan is to provide cameras to place on 1,500 officers as well as on 870 car dashboards. Video would be stored either on-site or on the cloud.
Mayor David Briley earmarked $15 million for the program, but the final cost is not clear, NewsChannel 5 said. The District Attorney’s office has asked for 49 more workers just to handle film footage for court.
A total of 21 officers are using the body and dash cams on a 90-day test run, WSMV said.
This comes more than a year after the Metro Nashville Police Department first tried testing body cams.
A Nashville Fraternal Order of Police representative said that officers will welcome the new cameras but has concerns on the effects on employees.
James Smallwood, president of the Andrew Jackson Lodge No. 5 Fraternal Order of Police told The Tennessee Star in an email:
The Fraternal Order of Police has long supported the concept of implementing a body camera program in Nashville. We firmly believe that this program will show our officers doing an increasingly difficult job in a professional manner every day. We are eager to see these cameras fully implemented so that every officer can have the protections necessary to do their job effectively. While we are eager to see the full implementation of this program, we are concerned that Nashville’s leaders will use this as an excuse to further burden their employees economically. Any such trade-off would be absolutely unacceptable and is completely avoidable with the appropriate management of the city’s finances.
The cameras will be yet another layer of oversight on the Metro Nashville Police Department. On Nov. 6, Nashville voters approved the creation of a controversial police oversight board.
Smallwood told The Star at that time that the board should include officers’ perspectives even though the FOP believes the board is an “unnecessary redundancy” that is too expensive at an estimated $10 million as well as being unconstitutional. However, the FOP would work with the city in setting up the board.
Then there is the officer recruitment aspect.
In 2010 about 4,700 people applied to work as a police officer in Nashville compared to only 1,900 in 2017, according to the website Oregon Live.
Smallwood told The Star this is a nationwide trend as well.
“Some people look at the law enforcement profession, and they ask themselves is it really worth the amount of money that these employers are really willing to pay and to put everything I have at risk and put my family at risk? Even if I have done my job correctly, they said, I am still at risk of being scrutinized or arrested or something to that extent,” Smallwood said.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.