Police body camera debate hits state Senate

FILE - Police body cam (AP File Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
FILE - Police body cam (AP File Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — State lawmakers will debate Tuesday afternoon whether all police officers in the state should have body cameras.  Senate Bill 158, proposed by Sen. Royce West of Dallas, also details when the cameras should be used. Currently, several police departments across the state use body cameras. For instance, Round Rock police and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office have a pilot program. Some Austin Police Department officers have purchased their own body cameras to use.

But what this Senate bill would do is create a statewide policy for body cameras, plus funding.

The cost of the cameras has been an ongoing concern. For example, the Austin Public Safety Commission projects it could cost upwards of $9 million to equip all of its officers. When it comes to regulation, Senate Bill 158 states an officer who is wearing a body camera must use it when responding to calls that include traffic stops, pursuits and arrests. However, an officer can turn it off when interviewing a witness for privacy concerns, an example would be a sexual assault case.

Austin Police Assistant Chief Jason Dusterhoft told lawmakers last month that APD supports the bill but has some concerns.

“How much storage space is this going to take up? How are we going to get into the cloud? How we are going to make sure the prosecutors get it? Are these going to match with our in-car systems right now?” said Dusterhoft. “There’s a lot of things we have to work out.”

“The issue of storage — cloud storage — not just an issue for law enforcement, but an issue for the State of Texas as it relates to how we store things now,” said Sen. Royce West, (D) Dallas. “We have been using warehouses, and now we have these digital warehouses called the cloud. And frankly, that’s where a lot of information is being stored and costs a lot of money.”

There will be a hearing on that bill in the state Senate 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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