Increased pressure for police to wear body cameras

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee(WDEF) – While only a hand full of police department across the U.S. are actually using body cameras, one department in Southeastern Tennessee is having much success with the recording devices.

Had it not been for cell phone video, A South Carolina cop would not be facing a murder rap after fatally shooting an unarmed suspect in the back. And had it not been for a hovering news helicopter, no one would have known that several California police officers brutally beat up a suspect who had already surrendered by laying face fist on the ground with his arms and legs spread.

Those two incidents including the chocking death of Eric Garner by the hands of New York city police officers have put more pressure on law enforcement agencies to require officer to wear body cameras.

Within the Chattanooga metropolitan area, only the Chattanooga Housing Authority Police Department is wearing bodycams. Chief Felix Vess said his department has been using bodycams for four years. The recording devices came in handy earlier this year during a murder investigation inside College Hill Courts.

"Body cam worked great. We got witnesses statements. It actually videotaped the scene because it was a very hectic scene. We have all of that for the case to prosecute suspect who was arrested," Vess said.

Every CHA officer is required to turn on the camera anytime they arrive on scene of a call or pull someone over for a traffic violation. In the event an officer misses something, the camera is equipped to capture the action before the record button is pressed.

"It actually does a 30-second pre-record so it’s catching everything that happens 30 seconds prior," Vess said.

All video is downloaded to a cloud server. Anytime someone accesses the video from the cloud, their name is logged.

Downloaded video can be recorded and even edited but the original video always remains inside the server to preserve the evidence.

But video recording and storing technology doesn’t come as cheap as regular monthly cell phone plans that offer cloud storage.

"It’s under $5,000 a year. Which is not bad for the amount of cameras we have and the people we have working," Vess said.

But with a larger department like Chattanooga PD, the price is anticipated to be much higher. Chattanooga police spokesperson Kyle Miller told WDEF the department doesn’t have an exact estimate of how much bodycams would cost the city.

"Estimated cost would be determined by the equipment purchased. There are varying models, data storage options, data plans and contracts all with various price points," Miller said.

Democratic Senator Sara Kyle of Memphis has introduced a Senate Bill 0868. It would require law enforcement officers to wear wide angle body cameras that record video footage while on duty. 

Last year, President Obama announced $263-million in funding for law enforcement agencies to purchase body-worn cameras and improve training.

The White House said the funding, which would need to be matched by state and local police, could purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras.

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