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MPD Bodycam Footage "Very Inaccessible," Says Reporter Suing City of Memphis

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Memphis Police Department files
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Marc Perrusquia is no stranger to lawsuits over access to public records. Back when he was an investigative reporter for the Commercial Appeal, the paper’s lawyers filed a number of suits on his behalf to acquire government documents.

But the University of Memphis’ Institute for Public Service Reporting, where Perrusquia is director, is not a big-budget news organization. 

His recent lawsuit, filed with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, will pit a small, independent nonprofit newsroom against a government bureaucracy that, he argues, is not fulfilling its promise of greater transparency. 

Lately, Perrusquia has been digging into excessive force complaints at the Memphis Police Department, where bodycams have been recording interactions since 2016. 

But the footage is not easily accessible, even to media organizations. For one, there are administrative costs for each video. MPD is charging $3,900 for 13 closed-case videos that Perrusquia wants to examine.

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Marc Perrusquia, director, Institute for Public Service Reporting

He also questions how police can restrict access to videos that have not been flagged as evidence in criminal investigations. Some bodycam footage currently requested dates back two years. 

Perrusquia hopes that a positive ruling in Shelby County Chancery Court will change how internal investigations are handled and how bodycam videos are declassified, giving the public faster insight into allegations of police misconduct.  

“I think it’s also good to have the media fire the proverbial shot across the bow, because it isn’t happening much now,” Perrusquia says. “We don’t have those checks and balances in place to keep government honest and they need to be shaken up now and then. It’s part of a long tradition of the news media -- individual journalists and news organizations -- suing when they have to, to spring loose this information that officials so often don’t want out to the public.”