Body cams for NPD?

Published 12:13 am Thursday, June 18, 2015

NATCHEZ — Say cheese, Natchez. You may soon be on camera.

With police transparency at the forefront of national discussion, the Natchez Police Department is considering purchasing body cameras for officers to wear on their lapels.

The cameras, Natchez Police Lt. Craig Godbold said, would be used to protect officers against false claims made by citizens during calls and arrests, as well as improve departmental transparency.

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“We have had accusations made against officers, and had they been wearing cameras, those problems would have been solved on the spot,” Godbold said.

Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray said the Natchez Board of Aldermen has had some discussion of purchasing cameras, but nothing has been set in stone.

“I don’t think we have a problem in this community like you see in others, but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Gray, referring to recent riots in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.

Ultimately, Gray said he would like to see the city find grant money to fund the cameras.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said federal grants for body-worn cameras are usually funded with a 50 percent match by the city police department.

“Right now, we just can’t afford them without a grant,” Brown said. “They are very expensive.”

Godbold said cameras, at the least, cost $800 a piece.

“And that doesn’t include the computer equipment that goes along with it,” he said.

NPD Capt. Tom McGehee echoed Godbold, saying there are a lot of caveats that go along with purchasing the cameras.

“You have to have a server to download the camera footage and store the data,” McGehee said. “Then you have to answer the questions of would it be rechargeable? Would it have a microphone? Would it have a hard drive? There is so much that goes into it.”

Godbold said the department has looked at a few camera models, and consulted with other nearby police departments that use body cameras, like the Vidalia Police Department.

“We’ve looked at two or three different cameras,” Godbold said. “They make several different styles.”

With tensions rising between communities and law enforcement on a national level, Gray said it’s worth the city’s time, and money, to consider purchasing lapel cameras.

“We have a problem all over this country with public safety,” Gray said. “I think it’s a reasonable thing that we can get (cameras) to protect our officers.”

Godbold and McGehee said they hope the city continues to search for grants to fund body-worn cameras, as they said it would give an added layer of accountability for the police department and the community.

“If somebody wants to come up with the match, we’ll be glad to buy the cameras,” McGehee said.