Officials: MPD Body Camera Program Needs Time, Money


Rallings, McGowen, Spinosa, Ford
  • Rallings, McGowen, Spinosa, Ford

Memphis Police Department officials asked the Memphis City Council on Tuesday for money this fiscal year to hire video analysts they say they need to get the department’s body camera program off the ground. 

MPD told council members Tuesday that they need $109,000 to hire 10 part-time video analysts who will review body camera footage before it can be made available to the public. That figure rises to about $300,000 for the new employees next year as they are paid for a full 12 months.

Asked for a timeline on the full implementation of the body camera program, MPD interim director Michael Rallings said “we’re not there yet.” 

“We need to hire the analysts first, before we put the cart before the horse,” Rallings said.

However, he said he hoped the analysts could all be hired by April.

Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, compared Memphis to other peer cities rolling out body camera and in-car camera programs. Seattle, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Denver are all “taking a phased-in approach.”

So far, Memphis has 150 in-car cameras deployed. It now has three officers testing body cameras but has a total of about 1,700 body cameras ready to be deployed.

Seattle has deployed 18 of its 500 cameras. L.A. has deployed about 690 of its 1,500 body cameras. Milwaukee has deployed about one-tenth of its total cameras and Denver is one-fifth of the way through a full deployment of its camera program.

McGowen projected that the MPD body cameras will create about 72,000 hours of footage each month. In-car cameras in Seattle now create about 18,000 hours each month. Milwaukee projects it will create about 36,000 hours each month. McGowen said Denver has created about 6,000 hours of footage in the last 28 days.

McGowen projected it will take three hours here to fully review and redact one hour of footage from police cameras. In Seattle, where they have more stringent public records rules, the process will take 10 hours for every one hour of footage. L.A. Has not yet released any police videos. Milwaukee and Denver have not yet had any requests for videos, McGowen said.

Cost projections to store the Memphis videos will be about $4.5 million in the next five years, McGowen said. That price shoots up to $10 million with the full deployment of all cameras. The figure in L.A. Is about $50 million and no cost projections were yet available form the other cities surveyed.

Council member Edmund Ford Jr. asked Rallings how Memphis stacked up against Albuquerque and New Orleans, cities that have already fully deployed car and body camera programs.

Rallings said camera policies in those cities are likely very different than what they’ll be in Memphis. Officers there can turn the cameras on and off “at will,” he said, and open records laws are also different in both cities. In total, he said the comparison to Memphis would not be “apples to apples.”

MPD bought its body cameras from Taser International last year. A lawsuit filed earlier this month from Taser rival Digital Ally claims Taser bribed officials to get contracts in six cities, including Memphis. Council member Phillip Spinosa asked Rallings if the suit would affect the city's camera program.

“It has nothing to do with us,” Rallings said. “It’s between Taser and the other company.”

Sexual Assault Kit Update

The Memphis Police Department (MPD) has whittled its backlog of about 13,000 untested sexual assault kits down to about 3,000 untested kits.

That was the latest from MPD officials who told Memphis City Council members Tuesday that more than 5,500 kits have completed analysis and more than 5,000 are now at labs for testing.

Officials said they can send about 30 kits a month for testing.

Also, MPD’s rape kit testing project got a nearly $2 million infusion of cash Tuesday. In September, the New York County District Attorney’s Office announced it would award nearly $38 million in grant to 32 jurisdictions in 20 states to test backlogs of rape kits. Memphis won one of the biggest grants which ranged in size from $97,000 to $2 million.

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