APD to fully implement first wave of body cameras

Jasleen Shokar

The Austin Police Department will be outfitting 500 police officers with body cameras over the next three months.Austin City Council approved a contract with Taser International, the company that will supply the body cameras, in June.

A survey conducted by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major County Sheriffs' Association in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security in 2015 surveyed 92 large city and county agencies, with 95 percent indicating they plan to implement body worn cameras in the future.

Support for body cameras has increased in recent years following incidents of police killings such as the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, prompting citizens to demand video proof of police encounters.

Commander Ely Reyes of APD’s technology unit said the first 500 officers to be equipped with the cameras will be officers in the downtown area and West Campus, with priority to officers without cars.

“Cars have cameras on them already, but other officers don’t,” Reyes said. “We want cameras on officers who are walking.”   

The APD’s policy manual regarding the body cameras states video footage can also be used for officer training in addition to being reviewed for evidence or personnel complaints.

Reyes said additional cameras will be acquired so that one can be issued to every officer with a rank of detective and below, and every patrol officer with a rank of lieutenant and below.

“Within the next 12 months, we will have 1,000 cameras deployed,” Reyes said. “In the third year, there will be another 500 cameras.”

When the officers complete their shifts, they will place their body cameras in a docking station hardwired to the Internet, and their videos will automatically upload to a cloud-based storage system where they will be kept for at least 90 days Reyes said.

“It can be stored up to 180 days for a traffic stop,” Reyes said. “And a felony could be five or ten years, or it could be forever depending on what the crime is that was captured on the video.”

Reyes said there would be state-mandated training sessions lasting two hours involved in the implementation of the body cameras, as well as hands-on training with the cameras themselves and the software program.

Finance junior Kyle Davison said as an African American student he really appreciates APD’s decision.

“It will allow for officers to become more cautious/aware of their actions as they go about their routine patrols,” Davison wrote in an email. “It will also play a role in preventing any unnecessary harm towards citizens before a circumstance arises.”

Government senior Vidal Castaneda said he thinks each officer should have the ability to decide whether or not to use a body camera and if they want it on during certain times.

“This has the ability to ease law enforcement from feeling pressured from doing their job and having it seen as excessive, while giving the public the accountability and transparency they seek,” Castaneda said.

Davison said implementing body cameras for officers in the UTPD would make students feel safer.

“At the end of the day, we as students want to feel protected on the 40 acres at all times,” Davison said. “Even when in contact with the men and women who serve to make campus a safer place.”