Nashville, TN – A state lawmaker has introduced legislation that would make it a felony for police officers to turn off – or forget to turn on – their bodycams.
“We want them to know that we're serious about justice,” Democratic Tennessee State Representative G.A. Hardaway told WMC.
“It is an offense for a law enforcement officer, with the intent to obstruct justice, to turn off, disable, fail to turn on, or operate a law enforcement recording device, including a law enforcement body camera, in any manner that prevents the creation of evidence,” reads the new bill.
Hardaway tried to frame his proposed legislation as a good thing for police, according to WMC.
“It needs to be in the section that deals with recording devices so the police officers know what the law is pertaining to these recording devices some officers don't even know what the level of prosecution is for intentionally interfering with those devices,” Hardaway said.
Under current law, a police officer determined to have intentionally turned off his bodycam could be charged with a Class C felony for tampering with evidence, WMC reported.
A Class C felony carries a sentence of four to six years.
Hardaway’s legislation – House Bill 1475 – would make turning off, or failing to turn on, a bodycam a Class E felony, which carries a sentence of one to two years, according to WMC.
Current law doesn’t criminalize an officer’s failure to turn on their bodycam; however, an officer may face administrative sanctions.
Memphis Police Association Treasurer Matt Cunningham said the proposed legislation creates even more pressure for officers already in high-pressure situations where they have only split seconds to think and make decisions, according to WTVT.
Cunningham said it’s the word “intent” in the legislation that makes it questionable.
“You got that catch-clause in there. We feel that’s a pretty slippery slope, defining what intent to obstruct justice means,” Cunningham told WTVT. “Police officers do a job where transparency is vital, but officers have umpteen things to think about during an encounter.”
Democratic Tennessee State Senator Sara Kyle filed the companion bill – Senate Bill 1321 -in her chamber on Feb. 7.
Hardaway and Kyle’s bills have been sent to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, respectively, for further consideration.