Mayor’s office plans to deploy police video cameras

A limited number of Metro Nashville police officers will begin wearing body-worn cameras in March 2020. (photo by Oleksandr Lutsenko/)

Following months of discussions between the Mayor’s Office, the Metro Nashville Police Department (MNPD), the District Attorney’s Office, and Metro Information Technology Services (ITS), as well as the Public Defender’s Office, other criminal justice agencies, and community stakeholders—Mayor John Cooper says that the city is finally ready to begin the rollout of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by Metro Nashville police officers.

“Nashville’s residents and police officers have been anxiously waiting for body-worn cameras since the initial announcement three years ago,” said Mayor John Cooper. “I understand and share the community’s frustration over the wait. Basic questions about how video will be used and shared hadn’t been addressed. In my first two and a half months in office, I’ve made sure that we continue to move forward with body-worn cameras as quickly and responsibly as possible. Thanks to the hard work of personnel across Metro, we now have a roadmap for implementing cameras. I’m excited that we can now move from talking about cameras to deploying them.”

According to the Mayor’s Office, several issues have slowed the deployment of body-worn cameras including: determining how video captured by police cameras would be shared with the District Attorney, the Public Defender, private defense attorneys, the Courts, and the public, funding the deployment, as well as supporting wireless uploads of video at the city’s eight police precincts.

In January, the Mayor’s Office will host a one-day technical advisory workshop, staffed by national experts who have worked with the U.S. Department of Justice to develop and facilitate BWC implementation in other cities, to create an implementation plan for Nashville. The Mayor’s Office will also host a community workshop to educate Nashville residents about policy options and solicit public input.

During this policy-making process, MNPD and ITS will continue to build out the necessary infrastructure for police officers to wirelessly upload video at Nashville’s eight precincts. According to MNPD, the timetable for completing the work required to begin to upload BWC footage wirelessly will be completed at the Metro Southeast facility in March. As soon as that work is completed, MNPD will deploy approximately two dozen BWCs to officers in its DUI and Traffic Enforcement Units to test the new network. DUI and Traffic Enforcement Units will also upgrade their in-car camera systems as part of a department-wide upgrade of computer-assisted dispatch/record management software (CAD/RMS) systems.

MNPD and ITS expect to complete the work of equipping all eight precincts with the ability to upload video camera footage wirelessly by May. That month, MNPD will deploy an additional 20 BWCs in ‘beta’ for three months. The purpose of the beta rollout is to determine all-in costs and fine-tune operational procedures. The pilot will last for 3-6 months, at which point the Mayor’s Office will evaluate the results with expert technical advisors. Running BWCs in ‘beta’ will help the public and policymakers determine the costs and complexities of a wider deployment.

The Mayor’s Office and other criminal justice agencies will help inform the community about how BWCs work throughout the implementation, testing, and evaluation process. Metro will also seek community input about where and how this first set of cameras should be deployed.

“It’s important that we get this done, and it’s important that we get it right,” said Mayor Cooper. “This plan puts cameras in the field as soon as the infrastructure is there to support them and allows us to learn what works in the process.”

Community Oversight Board concerned about number of police body cameras being released

Tuesday’s announcement of the planned rollout of police body cameras was met with disappointment by the Community Oversight Board (COB).

“While the Community Oversight Board (COB) is aware that Mayor Cooper has announced a plan to deploy about 44 body worn cameras (BWCs) in 2020, the Board still finds it troubling that they have offered no plan on a full implementation and appear to be starting from the beginning when years of planning, research and work has previously been done,” the group said.

According group Executive Director Jill Fitcheard, the Administration’s decision to deploy 44 BWCs for a Metro Police Department of over 1,300 sworn officers is “…nothing short of perplexing. Outfitting about three percent of our city’s police officers with BWCs does not address the needs of the community, and it also does not offer a solid foot forward,” she said. “Moreover, the planned deployment of outfitting DUI and Traffic Officers with BWCs, when DUI Officers already have Dash Cam in their vehicles, does not seem to be a useful way to determine its (BWC) impact on the Criminal Justice System. With the wide range of cases received by the DA’s office and the courts, just focusing on DUIs and traffic cases will not give the complete cost for a range of incident types.”

According to COB officials, the organization has not been invited to weigh in on how the city should proceed with BWCs, saying that they “understand the current budget constraints and are sympathetic, but to the greater extent, the stakeholders: The District Attorneys, The Public Defender and the MNPD have been at the table for many, if not all, of the criminal justice decisions. Since the COB will use the BWC data and advocates for the community, we must have a seat at the table as well.”

“Our participation is vital,” said Chair Ashlee Davis. “The COB must be at the table early and often for discussions related to BWCs and a full implementation cannot wait any longer.”

“Had we been engaged and invited to participate, we would have voiced our concerns about the insufficient number of BWCs that has been approved for MNPD in January 2020,” said Fitcheard. “We would recommend a strong evaluation component of BWCs by the use of a randomized selection of officers and increasing the number of officers outfitted.”

Metro Nashville Community Oversight’s research team is currently working on a policy advisory report related to body cameras that will make recommendations to MNPD and the Mayor’s office related to BWC implementation. Issues related to body worn cameras will continue to remain a priority to the COB and staff.