For months, Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle has called on the city Police Department to implement body cameras — and now she says she wants to take it another step further.
Marcelle is seeking an ordinance that would require all patrolling officers to wear body cameras as of Jan. 1. The proposed ordinance won’t come up for a vote until later this month.
Marcelle has led the charge for the new technology since September. The requests were met with support from Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. and the Mayor’s Office, but the cameras have yet to materialize because of a lack of funding.
An ordinance would force officials to prioritize the funding and ensure the body cameras are implemented, Marcelle said.
“I can’t do anything about the 2015 budget, but my intent is to make sure they include it in the 2016 budget,” she said.
The Baton Rouge Police Department, for its part, has been actively seeking financing for the body cameras, which are currently being used in cities across the nation, including New Orleans and Thibodaux.
The city Police Department applied for a $700,000 federal grant a few months ago and is waiting for approval to fund about 700 cameras.
In the meantime, the department has pulled together financing to pay for about 100 cameras for a pilot program to test the cameras and develop a policy. Some of those cameras have already been purchased.
“We are currently looking to start a pilot program with a hundred cameras to give us a better idea of what it will all include — cameras, storage, computer equipment, maintenance fees and personnel to redact and view all video,” Dabadie said in an email.
He expressed concern, however, about an ordinance that would make the cameras mandatory for all officers.
“We support our officers wearing them, but do not want to create a situation where we can’t afford to keep them once we get them,” Dabadie said.
Lt. Jonny Dunnam, spokesman for the Police Department, said a full body camera program could cost about $2 million. In addition to cameras, the agency will have to fund servers to store the video feeds and do other technology maintenance.
The issue of police cameras in Baton Rouge was raised in the fall amid the growing confrontations between protesters and police in Ferguson, Missouri, after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a police officer.
Amid the national stories about the clashes, a Baton Rouge police officer, Michael Elsbury, resigned when his racist text messages surfaced including one that said: “I wish someone would pull a Ferguson on them and take them out. I hate looking at those African monkeys at work... I enjoy arresting those thugs with their saggy pants.”
Marcelle said even though the stories about the need for body cameras have fallen from the headlines, she is still committed to seeing them through.
“Having an extra set of eyes that don’t change makes a big difference,” Marcelle said. “If police say a citizen did something, or if a citizen says police did something, both ways it’s a win-win. It won’t be an issue for people who are following the law.”