NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As of July 13, body cameras have been deployed to every Metro Nashville Police Department officer between all eight precincts.
That’s 1,184 body-worn cameras and another 665 cars equipped with three cameras a piece. About 60 more cars still need to be fitted for cameras. Every officer was also given an additional body camera, in the event of a malfunction or one camera simply needing a charge. This means every time an officer pulls up to the scene, they will have four cameras operating at the same time.
This has been years in the making, but MNPD calls this is the largest deployment of body-worn and in-car camera systems for any police department in the country. It's not that these cameras have not been around, just nothing quite to this scale. In March of 2020, about 20 officers from the DUI and Traffic Enforcement Unit were among the first group to receive body cameras and training. MNPD began its full deployment of body cameras later that summer.
"It’s been a long time coming. Our officers have wanted these devices for years. They’ve been asking for them for years and now today we can finally say we’ve gotten them to you," said Captain Blaine Whited, who supervises the body-worn and in-car camera program.
Capt. Whited said the same switch that triggers the blue lights above the car, sends a signal to the onboard systems and activates all four cameras. That includes the body camera, two cameras facing the front of the car and one facing the backseat.
"We have the event captured from beginning to end. It captures the interaction with the officer and captures the interaction with the community. So it allows for the event to be told in a very transparent way," Whited said.
Whited supervises body camera deployment and says they developed a curriculum that would ensure MNPD officers are among the most trained with these devices across the country. Officers accumulate 12 hours of training between in-classroom work and live action scenarios. Officers are instructed to always have their cameras on while interacting with the public, but there are exceptions. If an officer is approached by someone who wants to share sensitive information, the officer can use discretion and turn off their camera momentarily.
"That would harm our trust in the community if we were recording every encounter, because people have a right to privacy," Whited said.
Officers are not however, required to ask for consent before recording. Whited explained that the more transparency, the better. He says Chief John Drake has been very clear that officers need to have their cameras activate virtually at all times. If an officer is found not activating their body camera when required to, they face "serious disciplinary action."
One way to improve transparency is by making the footage readily available and Whited says this is part of the reason all footage is stored internally. Where most cities and other departments have to rely on someone else for storage, MNPD's IT department handles all footage.
"We're responsible for protecting it and we don't have to worry about someone changing the rates or cost of that and holding that data hostage," Capt. Whited said.
For more information on MNPD body camera policy, just click on their website for details.