This is a very good time for Austin police officials to review the department's patrol car camera policies to determine whether they need to be strengthened, clarified or revised.
After several tragic incidents, this community and police officers have learned the value of video cameras in police work, and we're glad that most officers have become comfortable with them.
Video cameras have vindicated any number of officers wrongly accused of bad behavior. And they also have helped the department identify officers who are abusing their authority. But one thing we learned this week from Austin Assistant Police Chief David Carter is that cameras also are helpful as a training tool. Officers can view themselves in action and make improvements in how they deal with the public. That's an added benefit.
As in the past, the review of the camera policy was triggered by tragedy. The effort comes about two months after the fatal shooting of Nathaniel Sanders II by senior officer Leonardo Quintana, whose patrol car camera had not been turned on when he shot Sanders. One of two backup officers arriving at the scene in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek Apartments on Springdale Road also had not activated his camera. ... It was the third lethal-force incident in recent years that had not been captured on patrol car cameras.
Most Texas cities installed cameras in their patrol cars after the passage of Texas' racial profiling statute in 2001 which allowed them to gather fewer data elements at traffic stops if cameras were installed. But "installed" isn't the same as "turned on when I shot the guy." (City officials say they can't afford equipment upgrades that would make filming during encounters more automatic.)
I'm glad to see Chief Acevedo belatedly reviewing the policy and hope he decides to require officers to record encounters more comprehensively, establishing swift and sure punishments when they fail to do so - even on routine patrol, not just after critical incidents. "The camera was turned off" has become a too-routine excuse after high-profile APD shooting incidents, and for too long Austin PD seems to have tolerated a departmental culture where many officers turn their cameras off in situations where confrontations or violence may occur. But that's exactly when the cameras should be on.