Police body camera policies scrutinized in new national analysis

A body camera is attached to the uniform of police officer. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With a new police body camera program set to begin at the end of September, an updated side-by-side comparison of police body cam policies in American cities now includes the capital of Texas. The analysis comes from a Washington, D.C. group called The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights which boasts 200 member organizations.

The group’s report of 50 urban police departments breaks down each department’s body-worn camera (BWC) policies by eight separate factors that relate to protecting people’s civil rights such as personal privacy. Each is scored as satisfactory, needs improvement or runs against the group’s principles.

The Austin Police Department scores well for putting the body camera policy up on its website where it’s easy to look at. The policy sets out clear rules on when an officer must record video.

The analysis determined APD falls short in the following areas:

  • It allows officers to review video before writing an initial report based on their own observations (Oakland PD limits officers’ access to BWC video)
  • There’s no maximum period for retaining footage or language for deleting it (APD’s policy shows unflagged video should be kept a minimum of 90 days)
  • Policy has no language allowing someone filing a complaint to get automatic access to video (as is done by Metro DC Police)

Carly Rose Jackson with Texans for Accountable Government agrees the score card is valuable, in particular, a section that shows best practices that some police departments have incorporated for their body camera policies. But she cautions APD executives remain somewhat closed when it comes to direct help from members of the public keen to help to refine the policy.

“They’ve been very clear so far, that APD controls their [own body camera] policy,” says Jackson. “The police department, they’re public servants, and as public servants, none of their policies should be internal. It’s all about working with the community and residents and visitors to Austin.”

In June, the city manager proposed a 120-day period for the group of stakeholders (which includes Texans for Accountable Government, the Austin and Texas Criminal Justice Coalitions and the ACLU of Texas) to meet with police to further fine-tune the policy.

“Most of the items we have talked about in groups, but we have not seen that language reflected in the newest version of the policy. I know there’s some disagreement with our stakeholders and the Austin Police Department, so we do need to meet. We have maybe a couple more months,” Jackson says.

The most recent public version came out in May. The group has already met at least twice with APD executives prior to council approving the $12.2 million body camera contract with TASER International last month.

KXAN reached out to APD for reaction to the national score card and if elements of it could be built into the next version of the policy. We didn’t immediately hear back.

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