Texas police search for how to pay for body cameras


AUSTIN (KXAN) —  Police departments all over Texas are searching for ways to pay for officer body cameras. This last session, lawmakers passed a bill that earmarked millions of dollars for body cameras.

“When you get it from the eyes and the perspective of the officer, it gives you a completely different perspective,” said Cmdr. Ely Reyes, who is in charge of police technology at APD. He said the department has several options and plans ready to put into action. But for now, they are waiting to see how much money the city will give them.

“We don’t know what we’re getting from the city, so it’s kind of like a trickle down effect,” said Reyes.

This year, lawmakers passed a bill to encourage local agencies to equip their officers with body cameras. Senate Bill 158 makes $10 million available for body cameras. Agencies could apply for money after putting down 25 percent of the cost.

“The state and the federal government will financially help them by picking up the difference,” said Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, the House sponsor on the bill. He said the Governor’s Office will phase in the money over five years.

“It’s going to show the people of our state what a fine job our peace officers are doing,” Fletcher added.

Reyes hopes to apply for grants after the budget comes out in October with the plan to phase in the first of 1,400 cameras in April 2016.

Gov. Greg Abbott has until June 11 to sign or veto SB 158.  Agencies in Texas have already asked for $1.5 million in grants for body cameras. The Austin Police Department has not, while they wait to finalize their own budget on Oct. 1.

If a department takes state money, its officers will have to follow a number of rules. Agencies will have to decide when officers can and cannot record, and they will also have to safely store the video and make sure the public can see it when appropriate. But officers cannot use their own cameras. Releasing a video without agency permission could come with a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Round Rock Police have been testing body cameras on some officers since the beginning of the year. A spokesperson for the department said they want to move forward with the cameras and plan to ask city council members to let them apply for a federal grant to help equip their officers.

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