SHREVEPORT, La. – Protesters that have taken to the streets of Shreveport in recent weeks came up with a list of demands, which was read aloud at a June 6 demonstration in front of Government Plaza.
The first item on that list was to purchase a body-worn camera for every Shreveport police officer on patrol.
"I feel like it's become a vital necessity that's literally life or death in most of these circumstances," said Caitlin Douglas, who read the list of demands aloud that day in her role as Director of Communications for We, the People, a grassroots activist group.
“I think in this climate, it's necessary for our law enforcement agents to have body cams and for them to be operational,” said Matthew Torma, another We, the People organizer. “I think us using funds for anything that kind of goes against that is misuse.”
Body-worn cameras are as close as technology will allow the public and courts to firsthand accounts of what officers encounter on the job, which ranges from mundane interactions to deadly confrontations.
Shreveport's Chief of Police agrees that his officers need body cameras.
"We’d love to have body cameras,” Chief Ben Raymond said. “We’ve had it as an unfunded need in our budget for several years now."
Previous attempts to purchase the cameras have failed in Shreveport.
"It’s an expense. As you know, the city has had its concerns with budgetary concerns over the last few years,” Raymond said. “So it’s been an expense that we’ve not been able to tackle."
Raymond has been pricing body cameras from different vendors. He estimates it will cost roughly $800,000 upfront and about $600,000 each year after that.
He said the money is available.
"What you’re really paying for is storage,” Raymond said. “How long do we want to be able to keep this video before it basically rolls off – or is replaced by other video? That’s where the expense comes in."
Raymond also pointed out that the cameras don’t last forever.
“A five-year period seems to be kind of the expected life expectancy, if you will, of a body camera. And then it’s got to be replaced,” Raymond said. “You don’t buy a body camera and expect that officer to have that body camera for the rest of their career.”
Other cities with roughly the same population as Shreveport, including Providence, RI, Chattanooga, TN and Mobile, AL outfit patrol officers with body cameras.
The City of Tyler, TX, whose population is less than two-thirds the size of Shreveport’s, first approved body-worn cameras for its police officers in 2014. The city purchased more cameras in 2018.
Locally, the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office requires all patrols below the rank of Lieutenant to wear cameras, the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office outfits all patrol deputies and school resource officers with body cameras, and the Bossier City Police Department has required all uniformed officers to wear cameras since 2016.
Representatives for all three agencies said the cameras have benefited their officers and the public; as the video helps with criminal investigations, complaint resolution and overall accountability.
One study of the Las Vegas Police Department published in 2017 found that body cameras saved money by reducing the number of citizen complaints and the time spent resolving them.
"I think our city is far behind with not having body cameras. We should have had it ages ago," Douglas said.
That's how Louisiana Rep. Denise Marcelle felt about Baton Rouge when she served on the metro council in 2015.
"I got push-back from some of my council members, saying that was a lot of money. I got push-back from some of the people on the police force, that I didn't trust the police,” the Democrat lawmaker said. “Just a lot of riffraff."
Eventually, she prevailed. Baton Rouge police officers now wear body cameras.
Marcelle now vice-chairs a legislative task force that studies body cameras. She said the task force last met more than a year ago, but she has requested in recent weeks that it meet again.
"Is absolutely due time for us to go back to the table and see where we are and pick that up,” Marcelle said.
Her advice to Shreveport’s leadership is to forget the monetary cost of the cameras.
"It just doesn't protect the citizen. It also protects good cops,” Marcelle said. “It also helps you to weed out bad cops. I think that's what every one of us should want."
Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins has already declared his support for body cameras, and Raymond is optimistic that the City Council will follow suit.
"I think we just have a lot of – I don’t want to use the word ‘uproar’ – but community engagement, where citizens, leaders are recognizing that we have had several high-profile events both nationally and locally that it would be beneficial to have body cameras," Raymond said.
The Shreveport Police Department does have a handful of body-worn cameras. They bought 90 dashboard-mounted cameras in 2016, and the vendor threw in a free body camera for each one.
Since then, Raymond said 21 of the body cameras broke, so 69 are still in use.
Officers in specialized units, like K-9, school resource and community liaison, wear those cameras.
SPD employs just over 500 uniformed officers.
Raymond wants to buy about 350 more body cameras.
Part of the city's plan to do that is to pursue grants to cover the cost.