Last year, the 84th Texas Legislature made it easier for police officers to record their interactions with the public through the use of body-worn cameras.
Legislators passed Senate Bill 158 last June, which provided a grant program for funding and allows each police department statewide to establish program guidelines that are tailored to the needs of their communities. Officials with the Pearland and Friendswood police departments said the legislation will enable both groups to upgrade their recording capability, which now is limited to dash cameras and handheld devices.
Both departments are in the process of submitting final grant applications and expect to receive word on funding from the Criminal Justice Division of the governor’s office by July 15, officials said.
Pearland, Friendswood police to implement body camera programs[/caption]
Pearland Police Department
In January, Pearland officials learned the city would be eligible for approximately $137,800 in grant funding, resulting in a minimum of 70 cameras. Grant coordinator Joel Hardy said Pearland is purchasing
78 body-worn cameras with grant funds, along with the requisite data management equipment and software to meet storage requirements.
Although a 25 percent funding match—an estimated $27,500—is required, the city is investing an additional $41,112 to purchase
36 more body cameras for a total of 114, officials said.
“The total price for all scheduled body camera purchases is $130,188, which will provide a camera for each front-line officer on the force at this time,” Hardy said.
Pearland officials estimate each camera will cost approximately $1,140.
Friendswood Police Department
Friendswood City Council approved the application for funding May 2. Friendswood Police Department Public Information Officer Lisa Price said the department is estimating each complete camera system—which includes a camera, docking station, power supply, clip, mic cables, USB charging cable and one-year warranty—will cost approximately $500. The low cost is attributed to the city working with the same vendor that sold vehicle-mounted cameras to Friendswood, she said.
“Using vendor [L-3 Mobile Vision] significantly decreases the cost of the program because all of the back office equipment—servers and software—is compatible with the vehicle-mounted cameras,” Price said.
Friendswood is seeking to utilize 45 body-worn cameras, which accounts for 74 percent of its 61 total sworn officers, Price said.
The $25,500 program budget covers 45 complete camera systems, four to six unit charging systems, a 24-port switch and Ethernet cables as well as remote professional services for set up.
The cost is worth removing the video and audio limitations posed by vehicle-based video camera systems, Price said. As it stands, police-citizen encounters following a traffic stop are the only situations that are recorded.
Both police departments expect the new body-worn camera programs to improve successful prosecution ratings as well as community relations, which State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, previously said is the main intention of the bill he co-sponsored.
“The police-citizen encounters that occur while patrolling away from the officer’s patrol vehicle are not captured by the traditional, front-facing, vehicle-mounted video camera, which results in a loss of valuable video and audio evidence as well as a gap in public transparency,” Price said. “Not capturing such valuable video and audio evidence can result in failed prosecutions, but more so it can negatively impact community relations and make the department’s job of supervising officers and investigating officer complaints more difficult.”
Price also said the improved recording capabilities would enhance the department’s ability to review probable cause for arrest, officer and suspect interactions, evidence for investigative and prosecutorial purposes and provide additional information for officer evaluation and training.
Hardy said body-worn cameras also ensure all parties involved conduct themselves in ways that promote integrity and proper conduct.
Officials from both departments said officers would be the sole source for activation of cameras, under certain guidelines, and citizens would be able to obtain a copy via an open records request in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act.
Since the departments are able to formulate their own policies for usage, Pearland officers will be required to wear the body camera during their entire shift. However, Hardy said the Pearland Police Department provided a set of parameters for when, where and why body-worn surveillance may be temporarily turned off for the purposes of officer safety, preserving battery life and usefulness.
Hardy said cameras may need to be temporarily disabled because lights and other indicators may hamper an officer’s ability to enter a crime-scene where tactical entry is required to investigate or capture an assailant.
Friendswood police officers will determine when to use their cameras.
If a body-worn camera is activated, it must remain on until the interaction is complete in order to ensure the integrity of the recording, unless the contact moves into an area restricted by policy, Price said.
“In locations where individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a residence, they may decline to be recorded unless the recording is being made pursuant to an arrest or search of the residence or the individuals,” she said.