Round Rock, Pflugerville to implement body cameras

Police officers in Round Rock and Pflugerville will soon wear body cameras while on duty.

Police officers in Round Rock and Pflugerville will soon wear body cameras while on duty.

After testing several options during the past year, the Round Rock and Pflugerville police departments will outfit officers with body cameras.

Although incidents between officers and citizens nationally have strengthened the public’s call for body cameras, many police officers said they also see the cameras as protection for them, their departments and their cities.

“I think there is this heavy contention that law enforcement is against body cameras, but most of my officers that I talk to want them,” Round Rock Police Commander Robert Rosenbusch said.

What the Departments did

Both departments started out small. A few cameras were assigned to officers in the animal control units to test cameras for factors such as battery life and how much video the camera could capture.

Wearability was another important aspect of camera selection. The weight of the cameras, where on the uniform they could be worn, how they attached and how well they stayed on were all key in determining which brand of camera was right.

Cost considerations

Along with function and quality, cost was an important factor when considering the cameras.

Pflugerville City Council, at the recommendation of Police Chief Charles Hooker, entered into a five-year contract with Taser International Inc. to outfit all of the Pflugerville Police Department’s 106 officers, at a cost of $262,000 in the first year of the contract, followed by four subsequent years at a rate of $140,000 per year, according to Hooker’s presentation to City Council on Aug. 9.

Round Rock chose L3 body cameras for its 163 officers, as that brand of camera is also found in the department’s patrol units.

And compatibility was important, because RRPD not only chose to implement a body camera program, they opted to install dedicated in-car routers in patrol vehicles to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

The current in-car video system requires officers to return to the police department to download video. Downloads can take up to 30 minutes, taking officers off of the streets, Rosenbusch said.

By installing the in-car router, it effectively turns the patrol vehicle into a wireless hot spot where dash and body-cam video can be continuously downloaded and categorized in department storage, making multiple trips to the station to download obsolete.

The department’s investment will cost Round Rock $616,000 over two years, with $402,000 coming from the FY 2015-16 budget and $214,000 coming from the FY 2016-17 budget that was approved in September. The city will also receive $75,000 in state grants.

“Cost is always a big thing, and we are trying to be good stewards for our tax dollars,” Rosenbusch said.

Benefits of cameras

Because body-warn camera programs are relatively new to law enforcement, long-term statistics on the cameras' effectiveness are scarce. Preliminary studies reveal benefits to the programs.

A 2014 report from the United States Department of Justice found body cameras have a civilizing effect. Cities included in the DOJ report experienced decreases in citizen complaints in addition to cases of use of force by police.

Body-worn cameras may provide departments with an opportunity for training, as video can be reviewed and training tailored to the needs of the officer or the department.

While cameras and video are  important tools in departments creating greater transparency with the public, Hooker reminded the Pflugerville City Council on Aug. 9 that body cameras will not fix everything.

“They are not the end-all, be-all. They are not going to be the panacea that a lot of people believe they are,” Hooker said.

Pflugerville expects to have the body camera program fully operational in the next three months, while Round Rock will be up and running by August.