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Why Nashville's Police Still Don't Have Body Cameras

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Three years, three mayors and a cascade of missed deadlines in Nashville, police officers in Tennessee's capital still are not wearing body cameras, despite promises to do just that. In the meantime, there have been two high-profile police shootings. Samantha Max of member station WPLN reports.

SAMANTHA MAX, BYLINE: This story unofficially begins on October 30, 2016. Then-Mayor Megan Barry stood at the pulpit of Temple Church in Nashville and made a promise.

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MEGAN BARRY: What we will do, Chief Anderson and I, we will be in a position to recommend full funding for all police officers to have body cameras when we present next year's budget to the Metro Council.

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MAX: From that moment on, Barry's administration seemed to move full steam ahead. She convened a task force to research body camera programs across the country and draft a policy. But even at the group's first meeting, activist Clemmie Greenlee wondered whether the city was really ready for body cameras.

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CLEMMIE GREENLEE: I want to make sure that we be assured that we won't be sitting here this time next year talking about the same one object - the body camera.

MAX: Flash-forward three years and two mayors later. The police department still hasn't bought a single body camera.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Where's the money? Where's the money? Where's the money?

MAX: This week, protesters gathered outside the mayor's office demanding answers. Some top officials say Barry made a hasty promise that would prove too expensive to keep, and then priorities shifted as power changed hands twice in less than two years. And while other police departments around the country have slowly phased in body cameras, Nashville pledged to buy them all at once. Here's Chief Steve Anderson.

STEVE ANDERSON: The total request associated with cameras would be $50.1 million.

MAX: Let's rewind to 2017. Jocques Clemmons had just been shot and killed after a traffic stop, and activists demanded police reform. They wanted interactions between officers and civilians caught on camera. But at a budget hearing, Chief Anderson said there was no room for shortcuts. There's the price of each individual camera and the cost to store thousands of hours of video they'll capture each day, plus salaries for new employees who will review all that footage before it's released to the public or used at trial.

ANDERSON: I've never made a request during my tenure for any funding that in any way approaches that. But we've never taken on something as complicated and expensive as this camera project.

MAX: Then, Daniel Hambrick was killed last year - again, after a traffic stop. It wasn't until this past August that the city signed a contract with a camera vendor and promised a quick rollout. Weeks later, another bump in the road - District Attorney Glenn Funk said officials hadn't taken into consideration the ripple effect body cameras would have across the legal system. Marcus Floyd says this is all just a delaying tactic. He worked for the last mayor and believes Nashville can't wait any longer.

MARCUS FLOYD: It can't be a priority because there's another black body on the streets. We need to make sure that body cameras are deployed before there is another life lost in this city.

MAX: The new mayor, John Cooper, has now set another deadline. He hopes to have a plan in place by the end of this year.

For NPR News, I'm Samantha Max in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.