Just how effective are MPD body cameras at maintaining transparency?

Just how effective are MPD body cameras at maintaining transparency?

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - $10 million is the price tag for Memphis Police Department's body cameras, which have been on the street now for just over a year.

So, what do those videos show, and how easily are they obtained when an incident is called into question?

Memphis police are equipped with 1,582 body cameras.

Department policy requires officers to activate those cameras as soon as they're assigned to a call.

When a Memphis police officer fired his weapon on a call last June, cameras captured what happened before and after the officer pulled the trigger.

That video is just one of the more than one million videos recorded since the deployment of officer-worn body cameras in Memphis.

Each video gives a real-time account of what took place from the officer's perspective.

On June 23, 2017 while responding to a domestic disturbance call, an officer discharged his weapon and killed the caller's dog.

The dog's owner did not witness what happened, but cameras were still rolling when she confronted the officer about his actions.

Video showed the dog charging the officer, and the caller chose not to file a complaint.

"We are looking at the officer's behavior, but we are also looking at the citizens' behavior," said MPD Deputy Chief Don Crowe.

Crowe said the cameras are worth every penny of their $10 million price tag. He said since the cameras were deployed, excessive force complaints against officers are down 34 percent.

"The video tells the story, and it tells the story from the angle, perspective of the officer, so it leaves very little doubt about what occurred," Crowe said.

"We can actually see what took place at the time of the incident," said attorney John Marek with Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board.

Marek said video footage has made it easier to review complaints, but that video should be more accessible to the average Memphian.

"We need to make it accessible enough to where alleged victims and officers who feel like they have been wronged can go back and grab that footage when they want to without having to pay too high of a cost," Marek said.

Take the aforementioned video for instance. WMC Action News 5 Investigators paid $521 for the footage after waiting six months for its release.

"The more narrow the request, the easier and faster it is, less costly it is to get that video to them," Crowe said.

A review of 94 public requests for MPD body camera footage between January and November of 2017 shows only 37 requests fulfilled.

Footage under investigation by the department is not released until an investigation is over, but there were eight requests denied because there were "no responsive records" found, meaning cameras were not recording.

"Unfortunately, we do have some officers that forget, or purposely do not turn them on," Crowe said. "And when we identify that officer we decide what the right corrective action will be, so they do face corrective action."

The department was not able to provide details by our deadline on how many officers have been disciplined for not turning on their cameras or when those mistakes were made.

But one year in, with almost 1,600 body cameras on the streets, Memphis police believe the system is off to a good start.

"There are many more positives in this, but always look for the lessons learned," Crowe said.

Crowe said body camera footage is used as a training tool for officers in addition to being used as evidence.

But that evidence comes at a cost – as reported earlier, WMC Action News 5 Investigators paid more than $500 for footage from just one call.

Crowe said the money is used to offset the cost of creating the video and redacting personal information.

"As long as we have to pay employees to do it, we need to try to recoup the cost," Crowe said.

Copyright 2018 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.