The Hattiesburg Police Department says it is close to selecting which body cameras it will purchase for officers.
“There is money budgeted for the purchase of new cameras, and we have just finished the testing phase,” said HPD Lt. Jon Traxler.
The Hattiesburg City Council budgeted $180,000 in the fall of 2015 for the purchase of body cameras by the Hattiesburg police. HPD has been thoroughly reviewing cameras and suppliers since the money was allocated from the city’s general fund.
Traxler said that HPD acquisition and implementation the new cameras will benefit the city of Hattiesburg in a number of ways.
“The reason we want to add more equipment for the officers that will better serve the community is, number one, it will cut down on liability for the department, and number two, it will help with the collection of evidence for cases within the department,” he said. “Number three, it will give the community a better sense of security because we’ve got cameras on the street.”
Ward 1 City Councilman Kim Bradley said liability and transparency concerns are a major reasons he supports the cameras’ purchase.
“I believe firmly that it’s something that the officers need to protect themselves as well as protect the citizens,” he said. “Whether visual or audio, if there a problem, you have a record of it.”
Joshua Hill, assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice, specializes in the field of crime and criminal justice politics. He said, as with the body cameras, technologies have been doted during shifts in the paradigms of criminal justice politics.
“With all of the heavily covered shootings of unarmed, particularly African-American, folks, there’s obviously been a pretty massive shift in how the politics of criminal justice in general is being filtered and also the technologies associate with trying to stop these,” he said.
Hill said people should remember that technology can be useful but is no magic bullet.
“The pros and cons have sort of been clear since earlier adoptions of technology, like dashboard cameras. At the time of the Rodney King beating, they were [trying to] address some of these problems,” he said. “Technology often seems like a solution to a problem when in reality it may not be nearly as much of a solution as it first seems to be.”
Hill said many people and communities are eager to find solutions to their problems.
“There has been some discussion of the benefits of body cameras from the perspective of potential victims of police misuse of force, but also police officers themselves can be protected by body cameras,” he said.
Bradley said he thinks the cameras will be a good addition to the force. He said as HPD moves toward a purchase, it is being careful not to repeat mistakes of the past, when the HPD spent $100,000 on body cameras.
“The city had gone through this process [in 2012] and the body cams the police department turned out to be a flop,” Bradley. “They sent a crappy product here that did not work. We returned them […] The company has since gone bankrupt, and we were not reimbursed the money we had paid for a product that didn’t work.”
Bradley said considering this prior experience, he is confident HPD’s new purchase will be shopped smartly.
“My understanding is that with due diligence they researched three or four different companies that had a product out there,” he said. “I am certain that they got references, talked with police departments that are using the cameras that we’re choosing and that we’re going to have a product that’s going to work.”
HDP is still seeking reimbursement for the 2012 purchase. In regard to the prior purchase, Traxler said testing results mislead the department.
“Due to them not be of the quality that we had originally tested, they were sent back to the company, requesting a refund,” Traxler said. “The company went bankrupt and was sold to another company, that company sold to a third company, and we’re still in litigation with that third company.”