A small group of Nashville police officers began testing body cameras this week. That’s a milestone, but it follows several delays that have bothered reform advocates.
Serious conversations about bringing body cameras to the city began in late 2016, with funding and planning underway the following year, but implementation still is not expected until summer 2019.
So even Marcus Floyd, public safety advisor to Mayor David Briley, acknowledges the equipment is overdue.
“I understand that people are sick of being patient. Two years is a lifetime for a lot of people,” he said. “It is tremendously important. I think you saw with the most recent officer-involved shooting — that highlighted for a lot of community members the need to have body cameras.”
Floyd, who joined the administration and inherited the project this year, calls it a top priority.
“It’s been my mission,” he said.
Delays Raise Frustrations
But the pursuit of body cameras predates the current administration, and spans across several city departments.
By March of 2017, Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson was ready to move on cameras.
“I think that that we have studied this long enough,” he told then-Mayor Megan Barry in his budget hearing.
Best case, he said, cameras could be deployed by July 2018.
But that timeline never materialized. The procurement process didn’t begin until near the end of the year, and it has since been subject to Metro purchasing rules that dictate the timeline (see detailed RFP). There was also a protest from one bidding company, which caused further delay.
So when July 2018 did come around, cameras were still a long way off — a point that drew close attention after Officer Andrew Delke fatally shot 25-year-old Daniel Hambrick, the exact type of incident that activists and many officials want to be able to examine with body-camera footage.
In October, when Delke was charged in the killing, Tennessee NAACP President Gloria Sweet-Love renewed a call for body cameras.
“Every officer out there — you should not be on duty unless you’ve got a body cam,” she said.
“Whatever it costs: Is it worth a young black boy’s life?” she said.
‘Anxious To Be Outfitted’
The cost has been a moving target.
An early Metro estimate from Barry was $10-20 million dollars for a body camera system. By the time the police chief had his 2017 budget hearing, it was more than twice that, about $50 million.
The actual dollar amount is less clear, and is divided across different parts of the Metro budget. A recent review shows roughly $39 million is budgeted to launch the system, plus more than $4 million in annual operations to keep it going.
The project entails a lot more than just clipping cameras onto 1,400 officers. Nashville wants a coordinated camera system that also includes dash cams inside nearly 900 cruisers — more than 2,000 cameras in all. And Nashville plans to create a new video center to store and process an estimated 2 million hours of footage — which would require hiring more than 30 people.
In the meantime, police have been working on a policy to govern the use of the cameras and footage.
The department says it is reviewing recommendations from a prior advisory committee (read them here) and will draw lessons from the three months of field testing now underway.
Metro’s purchasing timeline says it intends to award a vendor by April 30, with deployment of cameras to follow.
The police chief, who declined interview requests, wrote to his officers in October to explain the timeline. He said September 2019 was the estimated rollout.
“We know you are anxious to be outfitted with the new computers and especially the camera equipment,” Anderson wrote. “I am very proud of the way you conduct yourselves during the many adverse situations you encounter every day. As the camera program comes on line, the public will have an opportunity to see and understand, almost first hand, the challenges you face each day and the professional and caring way you address those challenges.”