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Mayor John Cooper unveils plan to phase in 44 police body cameras to test impact on criminal justice


Nashville Mayor John Cooper speaks at Curb Event Center at Belmont University on Oct. 11. "I understand and share the community's frustration over the wait," Cooper said Tuesday about the city's delays in implementing the use of police body cameras. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)

Three years after police body cameras became a top priority in Nashville, Mayor John Cooper announced a plan Tuesday to deploy about 44 cameras in 2020 to test their impact on the criminal justice system.


The small pilot comes weeks after the cameras were delayed due to questions about their cost. District Attorney Glenn Funk issued a report last week saying full implementation would cost the city more than $36 million per year.


The roll-out will be timed with the completion of technical work that will allow officers across the city to upload their camera footage wirelessly. 


Under the plan, "approximately two dozen" cameras would go to DUI and traffic officers in March. In May, an additional 20 cameras would roll out to patrol officers for three to six months.


There is no timeline for the full implementation of body cameras department-wide.


Administration officials said the pilot would be an opportunity to fine-tune cost estimates for the cameras. City agencies also needed to develop new policies for how the cameras are used and how their footage is shared among prosecutors, defense attorneys and the public.


"I understand and share the community's frustration over the wait," Cooper said in a statement. "Basic questions about how video will be used and shared hadn't been addressed."


Cooper said his team had been working to develop a plan for cameras "as quickly and responsibly as possible" since he took office in September.


"It's important that we get this done, and it's important that we get this right," Cooper said. "This plan puts cameras in the field as soon as a the infrastructure is there to support them and allows us to learn what works in the process."


Many cities across the country have turned to body cameras to address allegations of racial bias among police. In Nashville, calls for body cameras were amplified by the shooting deaths of two black men killed during interactions with white police officers.


Former Mayor Megan Barry committed to funding body cameras in 2016 and included $15 million to buy the cameras and associated equipment in her 2017 spending plan.


Implementation stalled as the mayor's office changed hands three times two years. Local advocates have been critical of Barry, former Mayor David Briley and now Cooper for failing to move fast enough on body cameras.


But Cooper said the city needs extra time to answer questions previous administrations had not considered.


Experts who have worked with the U.S. Department of Justice, and who have guided body camera roll-outs in other cities, will advise the mayor's office starting in January, according to Cooper's statement.


Funk used state grant funding to hire consultants who said Nashville's full fleet of body and dash cameras would produce about 12,960 hours of footage per day. They estimated that about 10% of that total would figure into criminal cases.


The district attorney, public defender and police department have all said they will need to hire new staff members to handle the influx of footage.


Funk's office needs to develop plans for how prosecutors share video footage with defense attorneys in criminal cases.


“I appreciate Mayor Cooper taking steps to fulfill our city’s commitment to implement body cameras," Funk said in a statement. "I look forward to working together with all agencies in the criminal justice system to provide this new evidence promptly while protecting the rights of victims and witnesses.”


This is a developing story. Reach Adam Tamburin at 615-726-5986 and atamburin@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter @tamburintweets.

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