Texas Will Fund|Police Body Cameras

     AUSTIN, Texas (CN) – Texas will create a grant system for law enforcement agencies to buy body cameras for their officers.
      Senate Bill 158 , by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, awaits signature from Gov. Greg Abbott.
     The bill allows police departments to apply to the governor’s office for grants, if they put up 25 percent of the amount requested.
     The bill defines “body worn camera” as a recording device that is: capable of recording or transmitting to be recorded remotely, video or audio; and worn on the officer’s clothing or as glasses.
     Grantees must adopt policies and guidelines on when the cameras must be activated, data retention (a minimum of 90 days), video/audio storage and security, equipment issues, and public access through open records.
     Police departments must train their officers and other personnel who handle the video before they institute their programs.
     The bill allows officers to turn off or not record nonconfrontational encounters, such as interviews with a witness or victim.
     Officers who do not turn on their camera in response to a call must note the reason for not doing so in the incident report or case file.
     Officers must use camera equipment issued by their department after it receives a grant, and privately owned body cameras will not be allowed. But law enforcement agencies not receiving a grant may permit its officers to use privately owned body cameras.
     It will be a Class A misdemeanor for a police officer or other employee of a law enforcement agency to release a recording from a body camera without permission from their department.
     A critical component of the bill relates to use of deadly force recorded on body cameras. Such recordings “may not be deleted, destroyed, or released to the public until all criminal matters have been finally adjudicated and all related administrative investigations have concluded.”
     But a law enforcement agency may release videos showing deadly force if it “determines that the release furthers a law enforcement purpose.”
     The bill also sets up the procedure for public information requests for body camera recordings. The requestor must give the date and approximate time of the recording; location of the recording; and name(s) of the person(s) who are the subject of the recording. The law enforcement agency has 20 days to request a decision from the attorney general about whether the recording must be released.
     Law enforcement agencies will not be allowed to release recordings made in a private space or in cases when the conduct results in just a fine and no arrest, unless it has permission from the person who is the subject of the recording, or from his or her authorized representative.
     A late amendment to the body camera bill from Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, exempts private conversations unrelated to law enforcement from public disclosure.
     The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas sought that amendment. CLEAT wanted basic privacy protections for officers and was concerned that “private, non-law enforcement conversations” would be released to the media, Internet bloggers and activists through open records requests.
     Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, wrote a nearly identical body camera bill, HB 474, which was left pending in committee.
     Reynolds backed SB 158, saying: “This legislation will help increase transparency and will help build trust between communities of color and police by recording direct footage of police conduct. It will also decrease excessive use of force complaints against police. This will save taxpayer money by reducing costs of internal investigations and litigation. There were numerous national incidents of unarmed black people being killed by police that sparked the demand for criminal justice reforms such as body cameras. Some of these tragic incidents inspired the Black Lives Matter movement and included Jordan Baker, Mike Brown, Walter Scott, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.”
     The bill will take effect on Sept. 1 after its expected signature by the governor.

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