Trial for Transparency: City leaders address concerns of ending - FOX10 News | WALA

Trial for Transparency: City leaders address concerns of ending MPD body cams

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FOX10 News is continuing to ask questions a day after a 3-hour trial, over whether police body camera video should be made public. This all stems from a lawsuit filed by FOX10 against the city of Mobile.

One city leader testified that if the judge rules in favor of releasing the video, the police department might have to shut down the body camera program altogether. We took that comment to city council.

In a trial for transparency on Wednesday, each side made its case on whether police body camera video is public record.

FOX10 News believes you have the right to see the video, since the cameras are paid for with millions of taxpayer dollars.

Public Safety Director James Barber testified that he's afraid this would set a precedent for overwhelming requests from the public, who might just want to see videos for entertainment -- something the department is not equipped, both staffing and technology-wise, to handle.

He also said if Judge Rick Stout rules in favor of FOX10 News, the burden would be so large, that the police department might have to shut down the program altogether.

City councilman Fred Richardson disagrees. When asked what he would do if that happened, Richardson responded, “I would call for a public safety committee meeting. We would invite Director Barber, Mayor Stimpson, and the whole police command. We would also take a look at other police departments the same size of ours to see what they are doing. If we are out there alone saying ‘we can't do it’, it will appear to be a cover-up."

The city council approved the money to pay for the cameras to begin with. Richardson said he's also not opposed to approving more to keep them.

In an exclusive FOX10 News Strategy poll last year, 72% of registered voters believe the video should be made available to the public.

Richardson says he's seen an overwhelming decrease in complaints against officers since the cameras were rolled out in 2015.

"I believe that if we get rid of the cameras, then we will jeopardize all the progress we have made,” said Richardson.

Barber declined to comment on this story until the judge makes his ruling. Here is what he said to the city council in July 2017:

"We've got six officers assigned just to provide discovery to the district attorney and municipal court for arrested subjects. If we were to open up those video files for curiosity, I can't even imagine how many officers it would take off the street to produce that type of video."

Judge Stout is expected to make his ruling on the lawsuit sometime in the next several weeks.

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