The cities of West Lake Hills and Rollingwood included the purchase of body cameras for their police departments in the cities’ fiscal year 2014-15 and FY 2015-16 budgets.
West Lake Hills police officers were outfitted with body cameras in 2014, but Chief Scott Gerdes said the technology was not the right fit, calling the cameras “the poor man’s GoPro.”[polldaddy poll=9115450]
Gerdes said upgraded body cameras became a priority for the police department because of rising national concern over events in which police officers did not wear body cameras.
“If we don’t record it someone else will,” he said. “And it will show up on YouTube, and we’ll get their side of the story. But if we get it on our videos, we can see what was happening and listen to it from the officer’s perspective rather than from across the street or two blocks away.”
Gerdes said the goal of the technology is to protect both officers and citizens, and cameras tend to make both parties act better.
The $11,000 cost for five new body cameras was originally in the FY 2015-16 budget, but City Council amended the FY 2014-15 budget Sept. 21 to allow Gerdes to purchase the cameras in September.
“It’s been my experience that most of the time when there’s a complaint and there’s video of that encounter it tends to exonerate the officer as opposed to incriminate the officer,” Gerdes said.
Gerdes said the cameras also help administration regulate police activity.
“An officer [might] think we’re out to catch them doing something wrong,” he said. “We’re just making sure they follow policies. It gives us a bird’s-eye view of what the officer is seeing, which allows us to train our officers better. ”
RPD does not currently have body cameras. Chief Dayne Pryor added the funding for the technology to the city’s FY 2015-16 budget.
“It’s important that we get [body cameras] now,” Pryor said. “[We should] spend the money now so that we’re not paying for a lawsuit later.”
He said the cost for equipping all full-time officers with body cameras will be $12,000.
Pryor said he stopped many frivolous complaints against officers with in-car dashboard video.
“[An officer’s] testimony alone is not enough,” he said. “If you don’t have it on camera, [someone] is going to make up their own [story].”
Policies for body camera footage can be complicated, Pryor said. In-car cameras are only able to record what happens on the street but body cameras can record in private areas, he said.
The department’s policy will have to go through legal review before being adopted and put into use, Pryor said.
Local school resource officers—contracted through the Travis County Sheriff’s Office—began using body cameras in December.
“They were our guinea pigs to determine what [cameras] to buy and how to use them [for county officers],” TCSO spokesperson Roger Wade said.
Lakeway Police support early use of body video
In June 2011, the Lakeway Police Department became one of the first law enforcement agencies in the state to outfit each of its patrol officers with body cameras, Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford said.
He instituted the technology after researching other departments that used the cameras and attending professional conferences that addressed the issue of adding body cameras to a police force, Radford said
“It just dawned on me that there could be an opportunity here for us to be a better agency,” he said.
After testing and evaluating the technology, Radford said the camera increased the officers’ performance and enabled the department to determine ways to improve its efficiency.
“What we also found was, even in the very brief test period, people were reacting differently with the officer when the officer had a camera on,” he said. “We found people were calming down. It made the officers act a little differently and the civilian act differently.”
Since incorporating body cameras into his department, Radford said other police agencies—including those from San Francisco, Detroit and Chicago—have inquired about LPD’s use of the technology.
“We are still way out in front when it comes to the national trend,” he said.
However, Radford said the new cameras were not without fault.
“What we found with the new technology was that the cameras were too good,” he said. “They showed too much, and the picture was too clear. So it wasn’t reflective of the human eye.”
Radford said his department determined that what the camera saw, especially in low lighting situations, was far different from what the officer was actually able to see. He said he brought this issue to his body camera provider—Taser International—and the company worked to resolve the problem.
“The video camera is not the panacea,” Radford said. “It’s not going to solve every problem out there. We still have to rely upon the fact that law enforcement officials are still credible people and are still trying to do the best job they can.”
Body cameras not standard issue for Bee Cave Police Department
Bee Cave Police Department has video cameras in all of its patrol cars, but the agency lacks body cameras for its officers. Police Chief Gary Miller said he did not request funds for the technology in the city’s fiscal year 2015-16 budget.
“We do have a long-term [plan] to look at [funding body cameras],” he said. “Not that I think it’s going to make any real difference in the behavior of the officers that we have working here because we basically receive maybe one complaint a year about an officer.”
The department’s current windshield camera system is older, leaving some responsibility to save the recorded video up to the officer, he said.
“The [camera] is just looking out the front windshield so you’re seeing basically what the officer sees looking straight ahead—one camera, one angle,” Miller said.
Although the camera begins recording the moment the officer starts the car, its data is not saved unless an officer turns on his or her flashing red lights, starts the siren, is involved in an accident or presses a button to save the data, he said. If any of these occurrences do not happen, the video of the shift is gone when the officer drives up to the station and turns off the car, he said.
“So far—and I know a lot of things have happened across the country—we’ve been lucky we have not had incidents like that happen,” Miller said. “History has shown that [a body camera] has supported the officer many more times than not.”
The process used to compile video with the department’s current in-car video system takes about two hours—including downloading the video, converting the data, making copies and sending the package to the district attorney on a case, he said.
“I know there is bound to be a more efficient way to get that done,” Miller said. “What we would like to do is, in future years and maybe as soon as the 2016-17 budget, replace all of that [system] and combine it with cameras in the cars and with body cameras the officers wear.
“I don’t want to jump into [body cameras] until we’ve done some research. I don’t want to waste any money and get the wrong kind of camera system. I certainly see the advantages to [body cameras], but I want to make sure we’re doing it both from an operational standpoint and a cost standpoint.”