Tennessee Police Officers Who Turn Off Their Body Cameras ‘In Bad Faith’ Could Be Charged With Felonies

Police in Tennessee who turn off their body cameras “in bad faith” could be subject to felony charges if a Volunteer State lawmaker gets his way, WLMT-TV (Memphis) is reporting.

For years now, police departments have been adding body cameras to the list of tools an officer carries with him or her. When used properly, they serve two purposes. First, they protect the officer from allegations against police brutality or any other wrongdoing; if everything that is done during an arrest or other police encounter is captured on camera, and an arrestee or witness makes a false accusation against the cop, there is video evidence to clear him or her. Similarly, should an arrestee or witness be accused of resisting or some other crime during a police encounter, there would be video evidence to counter those accusations (or to prove them, as the case may be).

However, the words “when used properly” appear to sometimes be a sticking point, at least in the case of some officers. Tennessee lawmaker G.A. Hardaway says that there have been instances, inside and outside of his state, where police turned off body cameras before or during an arrest in order to cover their own backsides.

“We’ve had some incidents in Memphis and in other parts of the nation where body cams were turned off intentionally and evidence was lost. Evidence was tampered with.”

And although Hardaway didn’t mention specifics, the TV station notes that the Memphis P.D. is still reeling from a September incident in which two officers broke a variety of procedures, including turning off their body cameras, when chasing down suspect Martavious Banks. As WREG-TV (Memphis) reports, the two officers chased Banks into an apartment and fired at him over the heads of stunned and terrified onlookers who ducked for cover. Those two officers, plus a third, have since been disciplined by their superiors and may yet face criminal charges related to the shooting (but not for turning off their body cameras).

Hardaway’s proposal is being met with resistance by the law enforcement community.

The Memphis Police Association, for example, calls the proposal “counterproductive.” Spokesman Sgt. Matt Cunningham says that police have enough to worry about in their jobs, which require quick thinking in the spur of the moment, without having to worry about racking up felony charges.

“To add one more stressor to officers, we’ve had a lot of officers say this would be the straw that would break the camel’s back, and they would find another line of work.”

He also notes that tampering with evidence is already a Class C felony in Tennessee.