Council to straighten out dash cam $$ - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Council to straighten out dash cam $$

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

If your are in an accident or pulled over by Memphis police for any reason, a dashboard camera could help prove your case.

But here's the problem: Only two cruisers of the entire fleet have those cameras. The two dash cameras are part of a pilot program and are being tested.

FOX13 News has learned there's money to fund the dashboard cameras that is part of an old city ordinance. Despite measures in place, it never happened.

Council members are working with the Wharton administration to straighten out this issue.

Delethia Connor Ward said police are responsible for her nephew's death in September after they used excessive force to arrest him. But officers say Lorenzo Davis became ill in the back of a squad car, and later died at the hospital.   

"what happened to him shouldn't have happened," she said. "It's very fishy to me."

The autopsy report shows Mr. Davis died accidentally of a brain hemorrhage caused by drugs. But the report also pointed out Mr. Davis suffered multiple bruises and cuts from the officers who tried to restrain him. FOX13 News asked police for dashboard camera video of the case, but it doesn't exist.

"It could, it could change a case," said Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong, "but with that said, don't want to say that's the end all be all."

However, certain cases largely depend on dashboard camera video evidence. For example, the bizarre Chavis Carter case gained national attention after Jonesboro, Ark., police said Mr. Carter killed himself while handcuffed in the back of a squad car. The defense requested the full dash cam video to show police interactions with Mr. Carter before his death.  

"We've never went down that road to try and get it here in Memphis again," Director Armstrong said. "I'm certainly interested in it. "We've had nine officers shot in the line of duty - one fatally shot. It gives us the ability to better track our officers, so that our dispatchers have the ability to know where our officers are at all times."

Director Armstrong added his department is reviewing vendors, but city council will need to approve the hefty price tag of several million dollars. But FOZX13 News has learned the police department should've received money for the cameras years ago. In fact, a 2009 resolution was passed to designate revenue from red light cameras, to buy and install cameras and or GPS systems in police cars, fund skycop systems and the Memphis Neighborhood Watch programs.

"Unfortunately I think the administration has been redirecting that money towards the general fund budget as we've tried to patch these budget holes year to year," said Councilman Kemp Conrad.

This speaks to a greater need to reform city government, Conrad added. He's working with Councilman Harold Collins to move forward with dashboard cameras in 2013.

Reached by phone, Councilman Collins said the Wharton administration recently said they weren't aware of how to break down the funds generated from red light cameras. So for the past three years, more than $1.4 million has been sitting in the general fund.

Councilman Collins said they've amended the ordinance to specify the amount for each group, including dashboard cameras. Conrad said the lapse in time calls for a fresh look at the latest technology.

"Technology the size of a flashlight so a lot of police departments are even getting away from doing it in cars, and officers are actually wearing technology," Conrad said.

"There are going to be complaints and certainly if it appears in court, got the evidence right there for us to review, makes it easier," Director Armstrong said.

A move which could help fight crime, track officer movements, and possibly bring justice for families in the future.

"If he was doing wrong they should have taken him to jail," Ward said. "Instead of the hospital and he end up dying police custody."

The amended ordinance will go before council on Tuesday, Nov. 20, for its second reading. The Shelby County Sheriff's Office says their dashboard cameras each cost about $4,500. With the exception of their command staff cruisers, all 80 patrol, traffic and DUI cruisers have dash cams, along with 40 vehicles in the fugitive division.

As for the officers involved in the Davis case, they were relieved of duty, but are back on the job since they were cleared of all criminal wrongdoing.

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