Formal vote planned for next week, but council members praise plan
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Backing’s call for greater “transparency,” Mobile County Council members on Tuesday said they approve of his request for money to purchase an additional 300 body cameras for police.
The council held off a formal vote until next week, but council members made clear in their public comments that they support the expansion.
The purchase would add to the current total of 500 body cams and allow every officer to be issued one of the devices. That includes even the mayor’s chief of staff, James Barber, and Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste if they are involved in any law-enforcement activities such as riding along with police officers on patrol.
“What we have learned over the last several years, really since the end of 2015 when we bought our first body cameras is that this works to protect good officers, but it also helps identify when mistakes are made so that we can correct them through disciplinary procedures, if necessary,” the mayor said. “Ultimately, it’s really about building trust between MPD and the community through transparency.”
Stimpson told council members that his staff could find no other comparably sized city in Alabama that outfits its entire force with body cameras.
The issue gained heightened saliency this year in the wake of a pair of high-profile shootings by police officers who were not wearing body cams. The first occurred on Jan. 26 when authorities say a man with a knife charged an officer following a traffic stop near U.S. 90 and Interstate 10. The officer in that case was a supervisor and not required to wearing a camera under department policy.
The second shooting took place nine days later when officers entered a home on East Lakeview Drive to serve a warrant. Police officials said that officer also was not required to wear a body cam because he was a member of the SWAT team.
ChaLea Tisdale, an attorney who represents the family of the man shot by police in the East Lakeview Drive incident, said the case today would be significantly different if there were more to go on beyond the conflicting statements of the officers and the family.
“I think it would make a huge difference,” she told FOX10 News. “Obviously, the only people that know exactly what happened that day were the ones that were there. But certainly it would eliminate any question, both on behalf of law enforcement and the citizens of the city if there were cameras on everything.”
Tisdale said cameras also would create “checks and balances” on officers’ behavior. Simply knowing everything if documented with video might prevent officers from acting badly, she said. She pointed to the mother of the man shot in February.
“One of the things that my client has reiterated over and over is she felt like she was treated like she wasn’t human,” she said. “And she feels like, had there been cameras, that they would have treated both her and her family differently.”
Stimpson said the city plans to use a about $666,000 in savings from unused police overtime during Mardi Gras combined with $2 million in next year’s budget to cover costs for the next year and a half.
After that, if the council formally approves it, the program will cost $1.3 million a year to buy and maintain the equipment.
While the mayor spoke of “transparency,” he said the city will not planning to change its policy withholding police body cam footage from the public. The police have done so only once in recent years, as a result of a lawsuit filed by FOX10 News.
“You know, for the last several years, we’ve been going to Montgomery every year, trying to get the state Legislature to establish statutes or regulations of how that will be disseminated when requested,” he told reporters. “Thus far, we’ve not been able to get the state Legislature to do that but we want to be very thoughtful about what Mobile does versus what Montgomery does, what other cities do.”
Council member praised the move., who long has called for every officer to wear a camera, said it is an important step for accountability.
“This is not a small matter,” he said. “This is big for our city and for our citizens, for our police officers. It denotes accountability, that we are not running from accountability.”
Councilman John Williams said good financial stewardship has allowed Mobile to take a step other cities have been unable to take.
“We’re very fortunate that the financial position of the city, for maybe the first time in its history, allows us to do these things,” he said. “There’s a reason why other cities haven’t done this. It’s very, very, very costly.”
Added : “I’m particularly proud the city of Mobile is in the vanguard of cities nationwide in equipping every sworn officer with a body cam. Every sworn officer It’s a great step forward.”