BRUSLY — The Brusly Police Department is poised to become part of a growing number of law enforcement agencies using surveillance technology to increase officer accountability.
Interim Police Chief Richie Johnson will ask the Town Council on Monday to appropriate approximately $3,200 toward the purchase of eight body cameras from Taser International.
And town leaders appear willing to honor the request given the scrutiny the department has been under since the recent arrest and resignation of its former police chief.
“I don’t think they can afford not to afford it,” Johnson said. “These things have been proven to help resolve citizen complaints, and I’d like to know what kind of interactions the officers are having with the public.”
Officer body cameras have been part of a growing national conversation about monitoring interactions between police and citizens since the protests that erupted after police shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old man in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.
Johnson has wanted to outfit officers with body cameras since stepping into the chief position in April, but the idea got placed on the back burner so that town officials could clean up other areas of concern within the department.
The department has been busy working with federal and state officials to track down 20 guns that a recent audit report revealed were missing from the Police Department’s inventory.
The same report also revealed that at least 10 of the department’s 17 officers didn’t have psychological evaluations in their personnel files, and at least one officer admitted to hitting a prisoner while not in self-defense or while making a lawful arrest.
The audit’s findings came three months after the town’s former police chief was arrested a second time and accused of malfeasance in office and theft.
Johnson is proposing spending $399 each for eight Taser International body cameras that officers can wear clipped to their shirts or belts. The tiny cameras have 12-hour battery lives and 130-degree lenses that capture a wide vantage point of footage.
Officers would have to activate the camera’s recording features, which Johnson said backtracks at least 30 seconds to capture the actions leading up to any incident.
Recorded footage is then downloaded daily and would be cataloged and stored on the Police Department’s computer storage for future reference.
For all their merits as a tool for greater police accountability, the body cameras only serve that person when they are activated. That’s been an issue for some police departments.
A recent evaluation of the New Orleans Police Department, which has been using body cameras since April, found that officers in the Big Easy weren’t using the devices consistently. Of 145 “use of force” reports reviewed, only 49 indicated the incident had been recorded, the September report revealed.
“If they don’t turn it on, they’ll face disciplinary action,” Johnson said in regards to Brusly’s police force.
According to the product’s website, on-officer cameras have reduced public complaints against police officers by more than 80 percent, something that appeals to the town leaders.
Mayor Joey Normand said he thinks body cameras for police are “a great idea.” He said he expects the Town Council, which will take up the issue in committee meetings on Monday, to approve Johnson’s request at its next regular meeting Oct. 13.
“If they use them, I’m all for it,” Normand said. “ We used to have dash cameras in the police cars, but they were never used or maintained. I really don’t think money will be an issue. But after Richie steps down, I don’t know if they’ll be used or not as we have no say so over the matter since our police chiefs are elected.”
Johnson is set to leave office as interim police chief after the Nov. 4 general elections. Two candidates have qualified to complete the former police chief’s four-year term.
Brusly isn’t alone in looking at body camera technology for police.
Across the Mississippi River, an East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilwoman harbors hopes that the city’s Police Department will consider outfitting officers with similar body cameras.
“I seriously don’t think it won’t be long before these things are mandated by the state or federal government,” Johnson said.
“These have a lot more versatility than dash cameras. These things can cut down on all the frivolous complaints and clarify a lot of issues in lawsuits against police departments.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.