Community

The Jeffersonville City Council is moving ahead with plans to equip the city’s police department with body cameras. The measure will now move to a final vote later this month.

The Jeffersonville Police Department (JPD) does not currently have a permanent body camera program. Since 2015, it has participated in various pilot programs – referred to as “trial-and-error programs” by Assistant Chief Michael McVoy – that involved a small number of officers testing the technology.

But a new contract would outfit all patrol officers with cameras. The 5-year program would bring 75 cameras to the department – a number significantly higher than any of the prior programs.

“We’ll outfit more officers,” McVoy said. “Our entire patrol division will be outfitted with cameras, including some supervisor levels.”

The program comes at a time of national focus on police violence. 

The Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) has faced criticism for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor by plain-clothes officers serving a no-knock warrant on March 13, and for the lack of body camera footage. Officers who entered her home that night were not wearing cameras because it was not policy for that unit at the time.  

No other body camera footage related to the shooting’s aftermath has been made available.

A similar situation arose days after protests erupted with the June 1 shooting death of David McAtee by members of the National Guard, who were responding to a gathering alongside the LMPD. Officers failed to activate body cameras during that shooting.

In Jeffersonville, Malcolm Williams was shot and killed by an Indiana State Trooper (ISP) during a traffic stop in the city on April 29. Family and friends of Williams have demanded footage of the stop, but ISP Troopers do not wear body cameras.

McVoy said the timing of JPD’s body cam program is coincidental, though he believes such improvements in transparency will benefit the department and the community as a whole. That’s why the department has engaged in pilot programs before choosing the best option for its needs.

“You want to get it right,” McVoy said. “You want to get it right for the taxpayers. You want to get it right for the officers, for victims, suspects. You want to make sure that you do it right.”

The cameras, McVoy noted, will be activated automatically through a number of triggers, including when officers unholster their weapons, become involved in a physical altercation, or come within a certain distance of a call to which they are responding. There will also be a buffering period that will capture video – though no audio – in the 30 seconds prior to a camera being activated.

Council members unanimously approved a first reading of the first installment of $167,300 at Monday’s meeting. Council president Matt Owen said the $522,000 to be used for the full five years of the program will come out of a capital improvement fund set aside for IT advancements.

A final vote on the matter will be taken when the council meets again at 7 p.m. July 20. Though the meeting will be conducted via Zoom, one council member will be present at Jeffersonville City Hall to allow citizens interested in making their voices heard to participate in public comment.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.