TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – After the death of George Floyd sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the nation, calls for police reform pushed Democrats to unveil new police reform legislation on Monday.
The proposed legislation would, among other things, ban officers from using chokeholds and create a national registry to track police misconduct.
In Sullivan County and Johnson City, chokeholds are off the table when it comes to each department’s policy.
In addition, both agencies require officers to provide a written report when using force. Sullivan County Cap. Jeremiah Lane and Johnson City Police Cheif Karl Turner both said that officers should give warnings before firing shots.
While police body cameras emerged as one potential solution that some advocate would aid in police accountability, officials at two local agencies said that the cost of the cameras and their maintenance bars agencies from using them.
According to Turner, his department has used six body cameras for four years for drug investigations.
Turner echoed sentiments expressed in police departments across the country – body cameras are too expensive. A year ago, Vox reported that departments across the country were discontinuing body camera programs because storing the data is too expensive to maintain.
According to a 2018 report from the Police Executive Research Forum, cameras used in departments across the country varied from $1,125 per year per camera to almost $3,000 for equipment, hardware, staffing, and storage.
Both Johnson City Police Department and Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office officials said that the cost of body cameras is what is barring those departments from using them.
Agencies across the state spend thousands of dollars training their police officers – according to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, local agencies spend $3,300 to equip each officer with at least 480 hours of training.
After training, both Turner and Lane said that officers receive further training through their departments, and annual training on sensitivity, bias and discrimination is available for officers to participate.
“Fair and impartial policing is what we’re taught through the training,” Lane said, adding that he believes such training is effective and should be revisited yearly. “Treat everyone the same and develop probable cause by not going off of race, not going off of religion.”
Sensitivity maintenance training can vary by department, Turner and Lane said.
In a case with an officer-involved shooting, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is involved, according to Lane and Turner.
Both officials said they want to foster a relationship with their respective communities, with JCPD hosting weekly community forums.
“If there’s a problem, we want to know about it,” Lane said. “If there are bad cops, we want to weed out bad cops.”