DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. — Some state lawmakers want every law enforcement officer in the state of Mississippi to wear a body camera.
The bill is making its way through the state capitol in Jackson, but even those who support having cameras are concerned about what it will do to the privacy of ordinary citizens.
They’re small wearable cameras clipped to an officer’s uniform, even slipped on like a pair of shades.
They record the actions of officers, but what’s captured through the lens is video of you.
“In reality, it would probably exonerate the vast majority of complaints that we get. The problem is just the logistics and the legalities,” Deputy Chief Steve Pirtle with the Southaven Police Department said.
Pirtle likes body cameras, but believes it’s not the right time to mandate them. He thinks there are too many unanswered questions.
Clarksdale State Representative Chuck Espy disagrees. He filed the legislation to make them mandatory for every state and local patrol officer.
“From the person who lives in Southaven or the person that lives on the Gulf Coast will know if they travel throughout the state, they know that is being recorded at all times,” Espy, (D) Clarksdale, said.
“We believe it’s a win-win, not only for the citizens but also for the police officer,” Jennifer Riley Collins with the ACLU of Mississippi said.
The ACLU of Mississippi is backing the Mississippi legislation, but originally had concerns about privacy.
“The ordinary U.S. citizen has a right to expectancy of privacy but if police officers are using the film as a back door method of surveillance, we would not want that. The reality is, I should not be under surveillance if I have not broken a law,” Collins said.
Chief Pirtle says that’s one reason he’s concerned about the bill.
“It goes very deep into rights and what our responsibilities and roles are going to be. And those answers, we’re still trying to get the answers to those,” Pirtle said.
Espy won over the ACLU by only having officers on patrol wear the cameras, forcing officers to let the public know it’s being recorded, and throwing the video out after the case is over.
Espy says the extra layer of armor provides protection for everyone involved.
“What would be so problematic with protecting our community, protecting its citizens, protecting law enforcement,” Espy said.
Eighty percent of the money to pay for the state-mandated cameras will come from the federal government. Still, both Southaven Police and the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office say their budgets can’t afford the 20 percent they’d be required to pay.