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Should Nashville Put Body Cameras on Police Officers?

Last week, Davidson County DA Glenn Funk announced his decision to not prosecute Officer Joshua Lippert for the shooting death of Jocques Clemmons. That death in an East Nashville public housing complex in February 2017 once again put the spotlight on alleged bias against African-Americans on the part of the Nashville Police Department.

It was in response to these and other allegations of bias that Mayor Megan Barry proposed spending $23 million in fiscal year 2017-18 for the purchase of police body cameras and squad car dash cameras. Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson is receptive to the idea, but is asking for $50.1 million for that purpose, including the purchase of backup cameras. A public hearing on the Mayor's entire municipal budget will be held on June 4, followed by a final budget vote on June 20.

What Do Police Cameras Mean For A Defendant?

Whatever the eventual size of the budget item, momentum seems to be growing for the proposal to purchase body and dash cameras. From a criminal defense perspective, what are the implications of body and dash cameras? Here are some thoughts, whether you are in favor of the proposal or disagree with it:

  • During a criminal apprehension and arrest, the arresting officer, the suspect, and other witnesses may have sharply differing recollections of what really happened. This is especially true when the police must use force to physically subdue a suspect. Body and dash cameras can go a long way toward clearing up questions about what happened or reconciling different narratives.
  • Body and dash cameras can be a valuable tool for the defense. In a DUI case for example, video footage could show that the officer failed to properly conduct field sobriety tests or made another fatal error.
  • At the same time, video footage can be a valuable tool for the prosecution, by providing justification for pursuing charges or for deciding not to charge. In the Lippert case for example, the DA's office was able to view housing project surveillance video that showed Clemmons picking up the gun that had fallen out of his pocket. That video corresponded with testimony by a woman at the scene who said she saw Clemmons pick up the gun.
  • Police body and dash cameras can play an important role in upholding the high ethical and professional standards we expect from our law enforcement officers.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, keep in mind this fact: Every criminal charge has potentially successful defenses. Get the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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