Where is the Texas legislature on police body cameras?

December 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

In case you were wondering where the State of Texas stood on requiring law enforcement to wear body cameras, TXSB 158 sponsored by Sen. West was introduced on November 11, a week before Missouri governor announced a state of emergency in anticipation of grand jury decision.

The bill text can be found here.

Here are the important pieces:

  • Body worn cameras apply to officers who are “engaged in traffic or highway patrol” and who “respond to calls for assistance from the public”
  • The agency who operates a body worn camera program shall adopt a policy which includes guidelines for when “an officer should activate a camera or discontinue a recording currently in progress”
  • Training must be provided to “officers who will wear the body worn cameras and any other personnel who will come into contact with video and audio date obtained…”

In Sec. 411.445 entitled Recording Interactions with the Public, the bill reads as follows:

  • “An officer equipped with a body camera shall activate the camera when responding to calls for assistance and when performing other law enforcement activities, including traffic stops, pursuits, arrests, searches….unless activation of the camera would be unsafe, unrealistic or impracticable.”
  • “An officer equipped with a  body worn camera may choose not to activate a camera or may choose to discontinue a recording currently in progress for any non confrontational encounter with a person, including an interview of a witness or victim”

This section needs more clarification. How is an officer to predetermine if an encounter will be non confrontational? In my opinion, the officer should be required to record “unless activation of the camera would be unsafe, unrealistic or impracticable” (for example, when the officer hops out the car after a car chase) or to discontinue a recording currently in progress. But this option, too, leaves room for “error.”

With this language will the “I didn’t know it would become confrontational” line prove more popular than “I was in fear of my life” line?

Law enforcement camera should be in use 24/7, with no option of de-activating.

The obvious Prohibited Acts in the next section include not being allowed to use an unissued camera; “may not temper with, delete, or make unauthorized copy of data…”; “may not release a recording unless with permission of applicable law enforcement agency.”

For Recordings as Evidence, “recording…may not be deleted or destroyed or released to the public before the completion of the investigation into the incident.”

Does the public have to wait for both the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) and Special Investigation Unit (SIU) to complete the investigation?

What really stood out to me is an issue those of us in Dallas are working against, and that is the privilege to review footage before giving a statement. This is addressed in the last section 411.448, Rights of the Officers. “An officer is entitled to access any recording of an incident involving the officer before making a statement about the incident.”

What is the purpose of reviewing footage prior to making a statement? How can the public trust law enforcement to act in good faith after reviewing the footage?

Overall, my opinion is that this is a bad bill that needs much work (I know, it’s only been introduced). In regards to police body cameras, I think it is a reasonable policy to require, not only in the midst of rampant police brutality but in general–citizens lack privacy and the State itself needs to be watched.

Lastly, my libertarian thinking comes into play and I am forced to question the overall effectiveness of such a policy. At the end of the day, the police will still police the police.

In time, we’ll see how this bill will end up. For now, the tough questions must be asked.

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