A federal judge says discipline should be tough enough to force New Orleans police officers to use body cameras and dash cameras, but interim Police Superintendent Michael Harrison told the judge there will be times when it may not be safe.
Judge Susie Morgan is overseeing the implementation of the consent decree the city signed with the U.S. Justice Department. The consent decree is designed to reform a department that was viewed as having serious problems with police misconduct.
An audit found that in August of this year, cops used cameras 49 percent of the time they were required to. In September, it increased to 62 percent.
Harrison told the judge that technical problems have been an issue. He said some of the computer servers were down at the time of the court hearing. Still, Harrison said he is serious about compliance. He wants cops to turn on the cameras each time they exit their vehicle on police business.
The NOPD Public Integrity Bureau has two dozen investigations underway into the use of the cameras. Both federal and local monitors are keeping tabs on the progress officers are making.
"Since everything that's happened in Missouri and also everything that's happened here in New Orleans that the public is very concerned about making sure that they have a recording on what's actually happening, every transaction, especially the transactions that are contentious," said Deputy Independent Police Monitor Simone Levine.
The cameras are to be used in almost all instances, including traffic stops, police chases, SWAT rolls and during physical and verbal confrontations.
"There may be instances where there's a split-second decision to be made to preserve life, obviously we teach our officers to preserve life and to protect the lives of other citizens, and so that's the message to the officers. We don't want them to be confused about that," said Harrison.
"Those cameras can actually exonerate them, you know, those cameras will always do justice by the officers that are actually doing the right thing," said Levine.
Harrison said the department will develop new "trip" sheets that officers will have to complete and sign. He said not being truthful about the use of cameras could cost officers their jobs.