Criminal justice reform advocates are proposing a new deadline for body cameras in Nashville. They want to see Metro Police officers wearing them by January.
Outside the mayor’s office Tuesday night — and just before a Metro Council meeting — demonstrators urged local leaders to stop delaying the rollout, shouting “three years, three mayors, still no cameras.”
More than three years have passed since former Mayor Megan Barry first promised to fully fund body cameras in Metro’s budget. Representatives from groups like Gideon’s Army, Community Oversight Now and Nashville PeaceMakers say they’re frustrated with the city’s slow progress.
For Sheila Clemmons Lee, the issue feels personal. She’s watched the project stall since her son, Jocques Clemmons, was shot and killed by a Metro Police officer in 2017.
Lee says putting off body cameras is no way to build trust with community members.
“Every time the body cameras get close to being sent out, something else comes along and takes it away. We’re sick of it,” she says. “They want to talk about layoffs and budget cutting. Why do we have to be the ones that get budget cut?”
Lee mentioned that other cities, like Chattanooga, have already equipped their officers with body cameras, despite funding concerns. But among Nashville’s leaders, she says, police transparency isn’t a priority.
“Accountability matters. It matters to us. And we’re not laying down anymore,” Lee says. “If we have to do something every week until somebody hears us, then that’s what we’ll do.”
The police department said it finally planned to buy the cameras two weeks ago. But after the state comptroller’s office ordered the city to rein in its spending, Mayor John Cooper put the project on pause.
The mayor’s office now says it’s working with police, the district attorney and other agencies to nail down a clear plan before moving ahead with deployment.
The city’s various criminal justice departments have requested millions of dollars in funding for body cameras and all the expenses they entail, including data storage, video review, redaction for public records requests and trial evidence. But the Metro Council has only allocated a fraction of the money thus far.
In the meantime, officials have continued to express concerns about the slew of costs associated with body cameras.
On Tuesday afternoon, the district attorney released a report prepared by a team of consultants he hired to study the potential economic impact on the city’s criminal justice agencies. They said the overall cost of body cameras could vary based on the protocols the city creates to determine how footage will be used once recorded. But the consultants estimated annual expenses to the court system would come close to $40 million.
“Critical decisions about policy and protocols for sharing information across the criminal justice system must be resolved before Metro can move ahead with the deployment and testing of body-worn cameras,” a spokesperson for the mayor said in a statement.
He said the mayor’s office hopes to share “a practical, evidence-based plan for initial camera deployment and testing in the coming weeks.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.