When patrol car cameras aren't used properly, it can stir just as much controversy. We will never see the moment Officer Leonardo Quintana fatally shot Nathaniel Sanders.
At APD, it's currently left up to officers to activate the patrol car cameras.
"Yeah, that has a lot of officers worried. The first thing that they do is make sure our camera is on which you know, it can take away from acting as quickly as you need to be,” said Officer Jay McCormick.
The system is ten years old and uses VHS tapes.
This fall a new digital camera system will do the thinking for the officers. Other departments including the Travis County Sheriff's Office use the technology.
The system APD is looking at will automatically activate two cameras--one on the dash, and one in the back seat. Commander Troy Gay says up to 18 triggers can be used such as the opening of a car door.
The footage will automatically download into a video management system.
"It will actually be better for us to monitor as supervisors to view what took place quicker,” said Gay.
Eventually the cameras could send live video to be monitored by supervisors.
This move can't happen quick enough as far as I'm concerned and should be replicated by other agencies statewide. When Texas' racial profiling law passed, the state issued bonds to purchase cameras for local police. But those VHS-based systems are now out of date and, going forward, digital systems like the one being implemented in Austin.
Earlier this year an appellate judge criticized Texas courts for ignoring instances where police intentionally disable their dashcams or rely on police testimony that blatantly contradicts what's on the recording. Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot on Fort Worth's 2nd Court of Appeals wrote in a dissent that:
Repeatedly, we are asked to review records of DWI stops during which there is no audio or video record of the event. Why do I believe there should be audio or audio and video record of the DWI stops? Because the law requires, and did so at the time of this stop, either an audio or audio and video record or the filing of a racial profiling report for each stop. See Tex Code Crim. Proc. art. 2.133-.135. The City of Fort Worth has conscientiously provided the means for complying with this law. ...
An appellate court should give no weight to testimony that is disproved by the objective record of the actual events. And I believe that the majority should address the issue of an officer’s intentionally disabling the audio recorder and testifying directly contrary to the audio record. ...
At some point, courts must address the repeated failure of officers to use the recording equipment and their repeated inability to remember whether the car they were driving on patrol or to a DWI stop contained the video equipment the City of Fort Worth has been paying for. If the law requires recording to qualify for the exception to filing racial profiling reports, then is the officer not obligated to make sure that there is tape in a traditional video camera or that a digital camera is activated? When the actual recording conflicts with the officer’s testimony, the defendant’s testimony, or another witness’s testimony, a court cannot pretend that the emperor is wearing new clothes just because someone testifies that he is.
Judging by that critique, forcing police to actually use cameras at traffic stops may only be half the battle. Then comes the challenge of getting courts to stop taking police officers' word over the audio or video record when the two contradict.