Legislators Seek To Charge Police Officers With Felony For Turning Off Body Cameras


Legislators in Memphis, Tennessee are attempting to hold police officers accountable who fail to turn their body cameras on when they encounter the public as they are required to do because it seems that many officers are not rolling the video in an attempt to hide things.  They are seeking to charge them with a Class E felony.

WREG reports:

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Officers have been caught hiding things recently. Most notably, in the Martavious Banks case where the department says three officers turned off their body cameras before shooting a man.

WREG is now learning the full story of what Memphis Police say happened on the night of September 17, 2018 when officers shot Banks, leaving him in critical condition.

Police say three officers deliberately hid their actions from supervisors by communicating on a radio frequency that dispatch couldn't hear and turning off their body cameras before the shooting.

While the officer who fired the shots resigned with no charges, the other three officers were suspended and a family attorney believes the behavior to be "egregious" and that the officers received a "slap on the wrist."

So, now representatives are attempting to include language in existing law to deal with the matter as tampering with evidence and obstructing justice, which is exactly what it is.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D- Memphis) "What we want to do is take the issue of tampering with evidence, obstructing justice and put some specific language into the Tennessee code."

Of course, the police are combating that saying it puts too much stress on them when they have to deal in a dangerous environment.

"Body camera policy violations should be exactly that, a policy violation, not a criminal law violation," said Matt Cunningham with the Memphis Police Association (MPA). "We feel it's not only excessive, but it adds to stress they have to deal with dangers."

“You got that catch-clause in there. We feel that’s a pretty slippery slope, defining what intent to obstruct justice means,” Cunningham said. “Police officers do a job where transparency is vital, but officers have umpteen things to think about during an encounter.”

But what about the man that was shot, Mr. Cunningham?  What about the excessiveness of the officers involved?  What about the dangers those you are supposed to serve encounter at the hands of such men?

The MPA claims that if this becomes law, many officers are threatening to quit.

Fine, let them quit.  This is not a difficult thing to do and it is to protect officers just as much as it is those they are supposed to serve.  It protects officers from fraudulent claims, but it also works to protect the public from criminal cops who abuse their authority and behave badly.

Mayor Jim Strickland said there were dozens of cases of officers doing the same thing: turning off their body cameras when they should be rolling.

Activist Hunter Demster said he’s happy to see lawmakers taking a serious look at police reform.

“I think that this bill is important, it’s one way to hold them accountable. At the end of the day, you’ve done nothing wrong. What do you have to hide?” Demster said.

Here's a simple solution:  Use lithium rechargeable batteries and high capacity SD cards or even SSD drives in the body cams.  At the beginning of every shift, the officer must have it turned on by their superiors with a locking mechanism so that it cannot be turned off for any reason.  Then when the shift is over, the officer has it turned off and recharged by his superior and the contents are kept for 14 days as evidence in case there are complaints.

Of course, my proposal would never become policy because that would be too simple and too clear to follow that it just might actually work.

Still, body camera footage is very important in many incidents.  Take this incident from last year where Arizona police engaged in a ridiculous amount of tyrannical excessive force.

Additionally, body cams have been used to protect officers who used justifiable deadly force, such as this body cam video, also from Arizona.

Finally, just as these would provide both transparency and protection for officers and the public, legislation is also being put forward in Illinois that would require politicians to wear body cameras to try and curb corruption.

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