The Memphis Police Department has released the names of 51 officers accused of violating the department’s body camera policy but is withholding specific details about the infractions.
The Institute for Public Service Reporting obtained the officers’ names through the Tennessee Open Records Act. However, the city still has not fully complied with The Institute’s request for records detailing when and how officers allegedly violated still-evolving policies first put in place in 2015 governing the use of body-worn cameras pinned to officers’ chests and dashboard cameras placed in many squad cars.
In an unusual move, the city’s Public Records Office released a list of names Tuesday along with references to 405 pages of disciplinary records. Although emails indicate the city was ready to release those records, they remain sealed.
MPD spokesman Louis Brownlee said he was personally looking into the matter, yet there was no resolution Wednesday morning.
MPD’s body camera use has been the focus of intense controversy following the Sept. 17 police shooting of Martavious Banks, 25. He reportedly was shot twice in the back as he ran from the scene of traffic stop in South Memphis.
Police Director Michael Rallings said the day after the incident the officer who fired the shots didn’t have his body camera turned on. The other two officers involved in the stop “deactivated either their body-worn cameras or in-car video systems during the pursuit,’’ Rallings said.
All three officers have been suspended pending an examination by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and an internal MPD probe of the officers’ camera use.
The list of previous violators released by the Public Records Office included two officers who evidently were written up twice for allegedly violating policy. The list also includes Michael R. Williams II, one of the three officers suspended in connection with the Banks shooting. Already-released records show Williams, the son of Memphis Police Association president Mike Williams, received a written reprimand for shutting off his camera in the middle of an August 2017 arrest that turned physical.
As many as seven of the cases on the list involve oral reprimands or oral counseling. Disciplinary outcomes could not be determined for most of the cases; because of that the Institute is withholding the names.
The Banks shooting spurred protests and sharp criticism from community leaders distrustful of the city’s pledge to shore up public trust with greater police transparency and accountability.
Following troubling police shootings of unarmed black men, including the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the 2015 death of Darrius Stewart in Memphis, the city entered a $4.5 million deal with Taser International to equip officers with 2,000 so-called body-worn cameras or BWCs.
The deal with Taser, which has since rebranded itself as Axon, includes video storage, service and maintenance. It could reach $9.4 million if extended over five years. So far, MPD has deployed 1,650 bodycams.
In addition, the city has a contract with Insight Public Sector Inc. that could reach $15 million over five years to install video and automatic vehicle locator systems in patrol cars.
Mayor Jim Strickland stirred early worries about compliance following Banks’ shooting, saying there’ve been “roughly 40 or so incidents’’ in which police failed to properly utilize bodycams or dashcams since MPD began recording street encounters in 2016.
MPD has since worked hard to rein in those fears. Police brass say they’ve brought 53 separate disciplinary actions for camera violations, framing that number as insignificantly small compared to the two million bodycam videos officers have captured.
An Institute investigation earlier this month found that Memphis is not alone in its struggles to deploy and successfully use body cameras.
In a phenomenon marked by mechanical failures, training challenges, overwhelmed staffs inexperienced in a new, emerging technology and, in some rare cases, old school codes of silence, cities like Chicago, Washington and Albuquerque, N.M., have struggled to get officers to comply.
This story first appeared at www.dailymemphian.com under exclusive use agreement with The Institute. Photos reprinted with permission of The Daily Memphian.