In the wake of a police shooting that resulted in the death of a 19-year-old in Mobile, many have asked one question repeatedly: “Where is the body camera footage?”
Mobile Police Chief Barber says it doesn’t exist, at least not the footage from officer Harold Hurst, who shot Michael Moore on Stanton Road June 13. The chief said Hurst wasn’t wearing a body camera at the time because he was reporting to work when he initiated the traffic stop that ultimately escalated to the use of deadly force.
“There is body camera video from responding officers but not from [Hurst] because he had not made it to the precinct,” Barber said. “Those devices are kept at a docking station at each precinct so the video can be uploaded and the devices can be recharged.”
Right now, the Mobile Police Department’s policy is to have patrol officers return body cameras to their respective precincts at the end of their shifts. There, docking stations recharge the cameras and upload any pertinent footage from the previous shift to be stored offsite.
The department uses Axon Flex cameras made by TASER, which are attached to an officer’s uniform or sunglasses. They begin recording once the blue lights in an officer’s vehicle are activated or a stun gun is engaged.
However, because they are high-mounted, Barber said they also “supplant the need for dash cameras,” which have mostly been removed from MPD cruisers.Last year, the Mobile City Council entered into a $2 million, five-year contract with TASER to outfit officers with the cameras as well as other gear. Councilor Levon Manzie said he pushed for the cameras in the wake of unrest in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, stemming from controversial police shootings that also weren’t captured on camera.
Manzie said it was “unfortunate” Hurst wasn’t wearing a camera at the time, adding this type of incident is exactly why cameras are necessary.
“We spent millions of dollars and the reason was so when incidents of this nature occurred we could have an accurate visual account of everyone’s behavior,” Manzie said. “Had that been in place, I think a lot of the unrest, speculation, allegation and distrust we’re seeing exhibited would not be taking place.”
Manzie is hoping for some kind of policy and procedure change to ensure cameras are in place during future interactions with law enforcement. He said the fallout from Moore’s shooting is “a glowing example of what can happen when they’re not.”
Councilman Fred Richardson told Lagniappe he wants to see Mayor Sandy Stimpson take steps to ensure when an officer makes a traffic stop or responds to any call, all equipment is on the officer’s uniform — including a body camera.
“If you don’t have all your equipment, stay there until someone with the equipment gets there,” Richardson said.
At a meeting last week, Councilman C.J. Small said it was the council that pushed for body cameras, after claiming they “kept getting the runaround” in previous police incidents. He added councilors had no idea officers didn’t take the body cameras home with them.
The councilors may get their wish for a policy change as Barber has already confirmed a “review” of policy is underway. However, he said it’s too early to say what changes, if any, could result.“We’re working with other officials on how to cover all these loopholes,” Barber said. “I don’t think that there is any fail-safe policy you can have where every incident is recorded, but we certainly want to be as thorough as we can about recording our incidents.”
Manzie said he received a tremendous number of calls from citizens throughout Mobile who are interested in “the truth and justice coming out,” regardless of how the investigations into last week’s police shooting pan out.
“The truth, well, what is that?” Mazie asked. “One of the only ways to make certain you know that truth is to have a body camera.”
Stimpson did not respond to requests for comment for this report.