Departments body camera policies requested by ACLU

Published 7:00 am Saturday, December 31, 2016

During last week’s Poplarville Board of Aldermen meeting, the Board approved a motion to send a copy of the Poplarville Police Department’s body camera policy to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Assistant 15th District Attorney Clay Cranford said it’s unclear why the ACLU requested the policy, but he expects the organization to make a non-binding recommendation about the department’s policy.

Cranford said the current policy adopted by Poplarville Police Chief Butch Raby on Nov. 8 allows for some officer discretion as to when body cameras, or wearable audio/visual recording systems, must be turned on.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

According to the policy, “officers will activate the unit to record during each citizen encounter related to a call for service…to assist in the performance of their duties as necessary and at the discretion of the officer.”

Cranford said this discretionary clause was added because without it, officers would be required to turn on their body cameras even when engaging regular conversations while on duty.

“You’d have to store that [footage] somewhere and say that it may have evidentiary value,” Cranford said, adding that Poplarville’s police department does not have the resources to do so.

The Poplarville Police Department started using body cameras in 2014 under the direction of former Chief Charlie Fazende, previous coverage states.

Since implementation, Cranford said in his duties as Assistant District Attorney, he has seen “cases where body cams are pretty integral.”

One such case involved Michael Williams, who recently pleaded guilty to residential burglary and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon because footage from the body camera of a Poplarville Police Department recorded the entire incident, Cranford said.

When dealing with criminal law, Cranford said body cameras can help identify unique factors in each case.

Deputies with the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department started utilizing body cameras within the last year. However, the department doesn’t yet have a specific policy about the use of body cameras, but does have one for audio/video as a whole, Chief Deputy Shane Tucker said.

He said he is currently looking into writing a specific body camera policy because it will enumerate how videos should be stored and for how long.

“The problem is it varies and you can policy yourself into a corner,” Tucker said. “I don’t want to policy our guys and girls into a situation where they’re going to violate policy at some point and therefore be open to some sort of disciplinary action.”

Tucker said he hopes to establish a discretionary policy similar to that of the Poplarville Police Department.

“On the same token I don’t want somebody to file a complaint and the deputy say they haven’t recorded it,” Tucker said.

Though one has not been drafted yet, Tucker said he believes such a policy should require officers to turn on their body cameras in situations of violence, traffic stops, domestic calls, arrests, search warrants and any other instances the deputy feels would be beneficial.

Since issuing body cameras to all deputies, Tucker said complaints have declined and those that are filed are resolved quickly.

Shift supervisors also periodically review the footage at random to ensure the best practices are being taken, Tucker said.

“They’re reviewed so that [the deputies] can be better, not to see them doing something wrong,” he said.

The Picayune Police Department issued body cameras to all officers in 2013 and are required to wear them when dealing with the public, previous coverage states.

About Julia Arenstam

Staff Writer

email author More by Julia