OUR OPINION: Body camera policy big step for police

More than a year ago when the city of Tupelo began the process of securing body cameras for its police department, work began behind the scenes to craft a thorough policy that sought to equally ensure oversight and protect privacy.

The result of that year of work is a policy that Tupelo officials believe will benefit both its citizens and law enforcement officers and one that has received some positive comments from a statewide civil liberties group.

Efforts to craft the policies regarding actions adopted by municipalities is no doubt some of the most important work that occurs at the local level of government, yet it often goes unheralded by most.

While purchasing and configuring the body cameras for a police department is an important step in the overall process, those steps mean nothing without the backing of a powerful policy.

Tupelo’s policy appears to have been crafted in all the right ways, through significant conversation with members of Tupelo police, consultation with other police department’s guidelines and even review of policy scorecards.

After nearly a year of work, the policy was formalized last week with the signature of Police Chief Bart Aguirre, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Caleb Bedillion.

All uniformed officers have since completed a video training course and read the policy, crafted primarily by city attorney Ben Logan.

Field implementation is now underway for those officers that will be equipped with a camera, which does not include detectives, administrative staff, school resource officers and undercover officers.

Tupelo’s body camera policy mandates that officers activate the recording function of the cameras during all “enforcement related” contacts with the public.

That would include all traffic stops, detentions, arrests and field interviews.

Under the policy, officers must complete an initial written report before they are allowed to view footage of an incident.

After completing the initial report and then viewing the relevant footage, officers are allowed to file supplemental reports and must note any discrepancies between the initial report and the video footage.

Officers are instructed to begin recording before any contact with the public or, in event of an emergency, as soon as the officer can safely do so. Officers may not, however, record in medical settings and in schools except in circumstances that include confronting a violent person or making an arrest.

During consensual, non-enforcement related contact with the public, officers have the discretion to not record video if requested by an individual.

The policy does not require officers to notify members of the public they are being recorded, a concern noted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, which provided early comment on the policy.

Overall, Tupelo’s policy seems to have been written with the safety and protection of both its residents and police in mind. We appreciate the work that went into the drafting of the policy and ask Tupelo leaders to monitor its implementation through the first few months to ensure it is doing what it was written to do.

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