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State police to begin wearing body cameras Jan. 1

27th December 2016   ·   0 Comments

The Louisiana State Police announced last week that it will equip about 700 troopers with body cameras, adding that it will represent the largest deployment of its kind for a state law enforcement agency.

The news comes on the heels of a number of recent complaints about racial profiling and excessive force against state troopers deployed to New Orleans to lend assistance to the severely undermanned NOPD.

One of the complaints was filed by the families of two Black teenagers who were wrestled to the ground and detained by state troopers as they waited in the French Quarter after a Carnival parade for one of the teens’ mother, an NOPD officer, to bring them a meal.

Another incident involves a Black man who was approached by state troopers who were looking for someone in a car waving a gun out of the window as he was sitting in his car outside his barber shop. He was reportedly detained, shoved and questioned by the troopers and sustained injuries that required medical treatment.

New Orleans musician Shamarr Allen said he was stopped, roughed up and questioned last year by state troopers as he drove home to the Lower Ninth Ward after a late-night gig.

Finally, the family of a Black college student who was visiting New Orleans with several of his classmates was stopped by state police as he spoke to his father on a cellphone in the French Quarter.

State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said Wednesday that the agency will purchase more than 1,500 body cameras through a five-year, $5.3 million contract with TASER International Inc.

The Associated Press reported that state troopers patrolling in New Orleans will be the first to get the cameras, in January. The State Police expects the cameras to be deployed statewide by next summer.

Edmonson said that each trooper will be equipped with two cameras, which automatically turn on if a trooper activates a stun gun.

The Louisiana State Police experimented with the cameras earlier this year by equipping 22 troopers with them.

In other law enforcement-related news, FOX 8 reported that NOPD officers are warming up to the idea of using body cameras as they patrol the streets of New Orleans.

FOX 8 News reported that when the NOPD launched its body warn camera program in 2014, the department said it wanted to make sure officers were using them when they were supposed to.

“So, we have a policy that states we have to turn them on for all required calls for service and other citizen-involved contacts during investigations,” Danny Murphy, NOPD Deputy Chief of the Compliance Bureau, told FOX 8.

Last summer, Murphy began doing monthly internal audits, breaking the data down by districts and platoons.

“Some districts are doing better than others, and sometimes, they would fluctuate over time. When we’d see an issue, we’d address why aren’t we turning on the cameras here,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the audit immediately began holding officers accountable. He says, in the beginning, he found that officers were using their cameras 80 percent of the time.

“We started in the 80s, but by doing these monthly checks, we quickly got up to 97 percent and have been over 97 percent for the past year, “ Murphy said.

The body-worn cameras were not mandated by the consent decree, the NOPD made choice to get them, and Chief Michael Harrison said it’s paid off.

“We’ve obviously seen that it has changed officer behavior. It’s changed citizen behavior. It’s also built a trust with the community,” says Chief Harrison.

Community United for Change, a grassroots organization, initially recommended before the goals and particulars of the 492-point federal consent decree were finalized that the NOPD utilize both audio and video-recording devices as we’ll as the formation of a civilian oversight committee.

Although those plans were initially brushed aside, the NOPD has since embraced the idea of both body-worn cameras and a civilian oversight committee.

Former NOPD Supt. Ronald Serpas stepped down in 2014 after the NOPD waited several days to report that a female officer turned off her body camera shortly before she shot a male suspect in the head during an altercation.

NOPD officials say the camera footage is a vital part of the process. Footage was used to exonerate officers during a fatal police shooting in Central City.

“I’m happy it’s exonerated our officers and proved they are not at fault, but it’s an educational tool to help us determine how to better deliver police services,” Harrison told FOX 8.

The NOPD says the footage is often used by the District Attorney’s office, and it’s also a way for the NOPD to be more transparent.

This article originally published in the December 26, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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