TUPELO • Body camera rules for city police officers may be revised to more clearly spell out the disciplinary process when those rules are broken — but it’s not yet clear what those revisions might look like.
Tupelo Police Chief Bart Aguirre told the city’s police advisory board on Wednesday that police leadership and City Hall will review policies that govern the use of body-worn cameras.
“We do see a need to address certain violations,” Aguirre said. “Where we are making changes is discipline.”
City attorney Ben Logan told the Daily Journal that discussions over the issue remain ongoing among police department officials, and any changes to the policy would involve more explicitly specific disciplinary procedures for different categories of policy violations, though the substance of the current policy looks unlikely to change much.
One issue that may emerge during revisions discussions is a more clear distinction between a failure to wear a camera at all during a shift and a failure to activate the camera during an incident.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first since the Tupelo Police Department drew scrutiny last month over the detention of local Black businessman Wesley Wells during a shoplifting investigation at the Mall at Barnes Crossing. During the detention, one officer was not wearing a body camera at all. Another turned his camera off during the incident, in what he said was an accident. Both officers were suspended for a period at the order of Mayor Jason Shelton.
“The mayor thought it was really egregious,” Aguirre told the Daily Journal.
Aguirre told the police advisory board that officer Dan Porch’s failure to wear his body camera during the incident — he had left it at the station — is the first documented incident in which an officer failed to wear a camera at all during a shift.
The department has documented numerous incidents in which officers failed to activate their cameras, or turned them off for various reasons — including accidental camera deactivations during scuffles with suspects.
The Wells incident drew significant public attention after Wells posted a Facebook video in which he claimed officers had “disrespected” him. Body camera footage showed an officer declining to wear a face mask, even after Wells voiced his fears of COVID-19.
“I don’t give a sh-t what you think,” officer Roy Noe told Wells about his pandemic fears.
However, the incident did not receive significant attention during Wednesday’s police advisory board meeting, even as the advisory board was created in response to prior controversies of police use of force.
Advisory board member Terry Goin first surfaced the issue for discussion late in Wednesday’s meeting, first referring to the matter in a roundabout way.
“Was there any fault of the policemen?” Goin finally asked.
Aguirre was circumspect in his response.
“We did have some policy violations, and they were dealt with,” Aguirre said.