BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The idea of outfitting Baton Rouge Police officers with body cameras has received a good deal of support, but there are still major issues to address before it can become a reality. In particular, funding is a major hurdle.
"We have to make sure that the budget is balanced," said Mayor Kip Holden when asked how the cameras will be funded if approved. "We'll put everything into the equation to see what can happen and if this is something we find viable after further study with other police departments, we'll probably try them out first with some officers and then look to moving forward."
Purchase of the body cameras was introduced as an administrative matter by Councilwoman Denise Marcelle at Wednesday's Metro Council meeting. She believes it is technology that could help to avoid traumatic situations like the shooting incident in Ferguson, MO, where an unarmed 18-year-old was fatally shot by police.
"Once the Ferguson incident came out, it became more obvious that I did not want that to reoccur in Baton Rouge, Marcelle said. "And in order to prevent it, what could I do from a policy making standpoint, and what could I do to assist to make sure it didn't happen?"
Marcelle says she's encouraged by the reaction from other council members.
"Many of the council members have reached out to me and said that they believe this is a good idea and they support it," she said. "But that doesn't mean that they're not going to come up with some reason not to support it."
According to Mayor Holden, there are still some questions surrounding that need to be answered.
"Right now it's a mixed bag," he said. "In different parts of the United States, you have people who say, 'Yes, let's try to put that camera on the body of an officer,' but there's been mixed reaction that they've gotten from them."
Several agencies in Louisiana have purchased the body cameras, which run between $1,000 to $5,000. One recent addition is the Houma Police Department. Chief Todd Duplantis says his department weighed the cost to the benefit and moved forward with outfitting every officer.
"The money that we were going to utilize for seven in-car cameras we were able to purchase every officer a body camera," Chief Duplantis said. "It can save a huge amount of money. One lawsuit can cost this department what these body cameras cost us."
In 2013, the Internal Affairs division of the Baton Rouge Police Department investigated 90 cases. Of those, 30 were related to claims of use of force. Only half of those complaints resulted with an exoneration. Most were done so with the assistance of cameras mounted to the dash of police vehicles.
"I get a lot of complaints from citizens throughout my district about excessive use of force by officers or about them not giving permission to search their vehicles," Marcelle said. "This [the body cameras] will clear up both sides. This will protect the police officer, as well as the citizens."
The Thibodaux Police Department has utilized body cameras for the past year. Chief Scott Silverii says the added information provided by the cameras has helped to clear up several disputes resulting in internal affairs complaints.
"It absolutely has increased our operational efficiency as far as taking those statements, and that way we ensure they're accurate statements," he said. "They can't be any more accurate than within your own words."
The possible purchase of body cameras is planned to be discussed at the next Metro Council meeting, which will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 24. Marcelle plans to continue discussions with the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Mayor's Office prior to that meeting.
"The Chief, we talked about this several weeks ago, and he said he's willing to do that," she said. "He was not opposed to it at all and thinks that it was something we need. I think that it's something we have to fund. It's a necessity from where I sit."