Friday, December 12, 2014

Lots of Texas departments getting, considering police bodycams

It's been remarkable to see how rapidly the terms of debate have shifted surrounding police body cameras in the wake of the Ferguson and Staten Island protests going national, including here in Texas.

In Houston, the DA's office will spend $2 million to purchase bodycams for Houston PD officers, reported the Houston Chronicle (Dec. 11), which is a good start but less than would be required to equip every patrol officer. "This summer, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said he asked City Hall for $8 million to equip 3,500 officers with body cameras over the next three years, but funding for the equipment has not been identified," the paper reported.

Similarly, in Dallas (reported the Morning News last month), DA-elect Susan Hawk announced she would use asset forfeiture funds to buy bodycams for DPD, a move supported by the local policy union. At least some Fort Worth PD officers already use bodycams.

Meanwhile, the San Antonio Express-News reported this week (Dec. 10) that SAPD Chief William McManus recommended to the city council :
that 210 officers on the Park Police and downtown bike patrol units incorporate the devices as a permanent part of their uniforms. Those officers currently do not have any camera system — unlike the majority of the officers, who have vehicles equipped with dashboard cameras.

The recommendation follows a six-month pilot program in which 150 officers were temporarily outfitted with devices.
WOAI radio in San Antonio ran a brief piece saying "Texas cops support body camera idea," and KTRH radio in Houston sported a similar headline, though in my experience that may be too broad a generalization. Here's a good piece on how body cameras work.

It's not just big cities, though. Lakeway, west of Austin, has used bodycams for three years. Georgetown PD in Williamson County adopted them over the summer. Celina PD (straddling Collin and Denton counties) has used them for nine months. In tiny Whitehouse, Texas (well, not as tiny as it used to be - lots of growth in that neck of the woods), the local PD adopted body cameras for its officers about a month ago (KETK-TV, Dec. 9). "It's going to protect the innocent, whether it's the officer or the citizen," said the police chief. The version of the camera used in Whitehouse have no "delete" button so officers can't go back after the fact to erase a recording. "The price runs about $300 dollars for each camera. The Whitehouse police chief says he believes that these cameras are the future of law enforcement."

Tyler Junior College PD has also adopted bodycams for all officers, and the Gatesville city council voted this week to outfit their police officers with them. College Station will outfit bicycle and motorcycle cops with body cameras, as will the Texas A&M University police. In addition, "The Brazos County Sheriff's Office has outfitted its patrol and courthouse deputies with body cameras, and Sheriff Chris Kirk said last month that jail staff is also testing the gear." Further, "Bryan police are also looking into purchasing body cameras for its officers. The department currently has five body cameras being tested by patrol and school resource officers." The Smith County fire marshal even wants firefighters to wear them!

That's a lot of recent progress on this front. Bodycams are not a panacea, but they're no small thing, either.


Constance Filley Johnson said...

What a wonderful development! I predict that most of the fine men and women who will be wearing them will welcome them as an additional tool to gather evidence and document the fine work they are already doing. However, the bodycams worn by the problem children among their ranks will suffer from chronic equipment malfunctions, dead batteries, etc... just as their dashcams currently do.

Constance Filley Johnson
Victoria, Texas

Anonymous said...

The interesting part about the police wearing body cameras is the reduction in the number of charges or claims of brutality by the police. Wonder why that is?

TriggerMortis said...

My prediction is that body cams will just open a new can of worms. Wait until a cop murders someone like happened in the New York choking case. Cops can't help themselves, can't control their seething anger, it will happen, watch and see. But soon it will be caught on video from start-to-finish. Then there will be no indictment, again.

Or worse yet, a cop will turn off his cam just before the murder. It's happened a lot already.

These types of incidents will add fuel to an already burning fire.

When the right incident is caught on video, (or not), this will trigger violent civil unrest and just maybe an outright lynching of a cop, or cops.

The government won't have an avenue to pursue next time such as the one they're currently using to quell unrest. They won't be able to say "we'll get body cams" and "change the grand jury procedures".

The next couple of years will surely be interesting...

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to watch how the passion to "serve and protect" fares "under the sunlight".

Slim Jim said...

first two cops that should get body cams are those two gun happy hoodlums @ Midland. Between the two, they have killed six men under colour of authority. The last one just two weeks ago.

The Pragmatic Realist said...

Despite the wishful thinking on the part of most commentators here, the cameras will end up serving as evidence AGAINST average citizens in most cases. The police will be aware of their presence and act accordingly while everyday people will continue to act in ways that would shock a sailor, perhaps even baited to do so just as idiots try to bait police while confederates record the interaction.

In Houston, the city police report that over 75% of all complaints come from other officers, not citizens, and this has been the case for decades. The cameras will almost certainly cut down on complaints as they have elsewhere by making it far, far easier to file on those making false allegations against officers that the Harris County DA's office has refused to accept charges on unless the interaction was recorded, why do you think their office is ponying up so much to assist in outfitting the two largest agencies? When charges start getting accepted on people lying about police brutality, of course they dry up and frankly, this is a wonderful use of taxpayer money from all angles.

If the use of cameras helps internal investigations of cop on cop complaints, so much the better in cutting to the chase in such affairs, the resulting manpower needs sending IA officers back to other investigative divisions where they are desperately needed. But those thinking that officers won't be trained in using the cameras to their best advantage are dreaming a fantasy world that never has and never will exist.

But those claiming cameras are turned off or found defective are forgetting that this is new technology being subjected to what amounts to harsh field tests. The military has had a blank check for such items and their camera failure rate is astronomical (try and get truthful numbers from them all you like but in every field mission I've been made privy to, at least half the squad's cameras had troubles and those are the kind designed for ANYTHING and costing 20x the kind local cops will have access to). So no, the night vision on the type of camera we're talking about will stink as will failure rates from prolonged use in rain, snow, or the hot, steamy weather of Southern Texas. The reason you hear about the failures during a critical mission or major event are because those are the few times when footage is closely looked at. No agency is going to have the manpower to monitor all footage generated in real time, even spot checking limited without substantial increases in supervisory manpower that people are not going to want to pay for.

Those that believe these devices are going to a panacea of solutions for every angle they are being sold on should remember how local toll roads were going to be free once their initial bonds were paid off (how many rate increases have there been since paying said bonds off? 4? 5?), how changing this law or that would deter crime, or how technology in general has "solved" problems in the past.

TriggerMortis said...

"The police will be aware of their presence and act accordingly"

01:50, I'm pretty sure that's the entire idea behind body cams. Either cops stop brutalizing and murdering, or they will face the consequences because their actions will be caught on video.

But even knowing their actions are being taped does not stop many cops from brutalizing and murdering. There are thousands of examples of this which are available for your viewing pleasure on the web.

Many cops can't control their behavior. Many are psychopaths on a power trip who beat and murder anyone who challenges their authority. Here's an example which I came across yesterday:

Mark my words here and now, these body cams will not deter most cops. And as more and more of the videos captured on these cams are made public, the more citizens will be enraged until it gets to the point where some cop somewhere will be made an example of.

Anyone catch what Harris County DA Anderson said last week as she announced she was going to pay for the body cams?

Anderson said the frustration and anger she observed at Dec. 1 town hall was "new to her":

New to her because she lives in a different world than most who are forced to interact with cops on a daily basis.

I speak with dozens of minorities each week who live in neighborhoods which are basically under lockdown. Residents are harassed by cops the moment they step outside their homes. They live virtually under house arrest, and they have had just about all they're going to take. All it's going to take is just one more video, then all hell is going to break loose all across the country. Watch and see...

The Pragmatic Realist said...

it's amazing how biased one becomes when all they deal with directly are one part of the equation such as yourself. Like it or not, police are allowed to use force to affect arrests and protect themselves/the public. One can find anecdotal events to support just about any position but portraying said occurrences as frequent, "many", or par for the course when they are exceptionally rare does no one any good. To hear some of tell it, cops in Houston are killing poor, completely innocent, people at random every day; people just minding their own business, usually in the comfort of their own homes, and 100% compliant with any orders issued by a police officer. The truth is, in virtually all cases, those killed were NOT compliant, WERE engaged in some felony, and/or greatly contributed to their own demise by presenting an immediate and actionable threat.

The body cameras are going to show this in spades and the hand wringers are going to wail endlessly that this was not what the cameras were supposed to be used for, exonerating police officers. I'm sure they will catch a few cops going too far as well but just wait and see where the evidence points in most cases. If some in the community don't like the truth as it comes out, they will likely find locals are not nearly as tolerant of rioters and looters as people up north, the area comprised of many more people like Joe Horn than they will want to deal with.

If you want to stop the deaths of people from particular communities you deal with every day, you can start by teaching them how reasonable people deal with police. A reasonable person doesn't reach into his waistband where many keep their guns, nor does such a person reach under the seat, another well established location for hiding guns. They don't lead police on high speed chases, nor do they attack police, or threaten others with firearms. If you think getting video footage of such acts is going to help minority communities, I think you are in for a surprise just as I think locally, one more video is not going to result in "all hell breaking loose" because the majority will not tolerate lawlessness.

Anonymous said...

Perpetually angry blacks and idiots like TriggerMortis are oblivious to the reality that the mass utilization of body cameras by law enforcement will result in a reduction of sustained complaints and malicious prosecutions against LE Officers nationwide.

TriggerMortis said...

There are already dozens of departments with body cams and there has been absolutely no reduction in sustained complaints. But there has been a huge reduction in misconduct:

I spoke with an HPD commander today about the body cams and asked how they planned to use them and was told that for the initial phase-in period only the best officers with no history of abuse complaints would be wearing them. Those who the department is aware of with serious issues will not be outfitted with body cams because they know it will be problematic. HPD hopes this strategy will make it appear that they don't have abusive cops, at least during the rollout phase. Their hope is that they're never required to fully implement body cams on every officer.

Locally, there may not be an instant reaction to a video when a cop murders someone. But I believe that nationally there will be Eric Frein copycats. One or two at first, then another here, another there. The public reaction, especially if they go after cops who have appeared in the videos, will be supportive unlike with Frein who was ignored.

I see this coming as plain as day because I listen to the victims. Let's all bookmark this page and come back here in a year or so and see who was right, shall we?

The Pragmatic Realist said...

you're the one who initially claimed it would only take "one more video" for the community to go wild and now you are backtracking. Locally, it will take far more than that because too many other citizens will not stand for it.

Whichever police commander you spoke with is either A) part of the problem and needs to be cast down or B) exists solely in your head. While I have no doubt there are a few just like you mentioned, current implementation plans are not to assign them to "good" officers but to deploy them by station just as they have with all their other plans and schemes over the past several decades (with one exception mentioned below).

Their inventory systems and methodology are run by clueless individuals that feel the need to standardize above all else, the discussion by their civilian overseers (mayor and council) trying to hammer out a few of the policy details; several councilmen wanting the cameras in their areas first. Those areas do not include River Oaks if you catch my drift.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how much some of you want to portray their officers as loose cannons, and every large organization has such no matter what field you look at, the most sensible manner of full scale deployment of cameras would start with those in the field that have a history of complaints, the more complaints they have, the closer to the head of the line they go. The city did try this with their modified tasers that had cameras attached and the program worked better than expected but the cost was prohibitive to expand it.

And for the record, the article you linked supported just what I said about the cameras. You might have missed the part where the police pull up the video for the complaining citizens who then walk away "never to be heard from again". Locally, there will be a push to allow the complaint to be taken, nobody wanting to catch the eyes of the feds who see scaring off such as "intimidation", and then taking the sworn complaint along with the video to the DA's office if merited. That is how you buy in from the officers, the fact that the cameras are evenly deployed based on the truth of the situation. There will be police misconduct caught, it just won't be on a scale big enough to justify dropping $8 million plus all the ongoing costs UNLESS you are a 100% police supporter.

And as these are public records, the ACLU should just suck it up that the media will have access to obtaining copies of, say a case where the head of the integrity unit threatens people or some poor schlep screams bloody murder and it makes the 6 o'clock news just as footage of cops will be played to death in small, heavily edited, doses.

TriggerMortis said...

PR, I hope to see you back here on December 16, 2015.

And I won't be all about telling you I told you so either. I enjoy watching my predictions come true and appreciate it when others are able to verify what I predicted. It makes for interesting conversation.

Also on that date I'll make new predictions based on what occurs between now and then. I'm already thinking that in 2016 there will be organized activity, especially if serious progress isn't made and the current anger becomes uncontrollable hatred.

One thing is for sure though, it's never going to go back to the way it was. People see now that they can wield power, and this awareness will only increase. All shootings will now be scrutinized as will all grand juries and the district attorneys who control them. Ferguson and its aftermath was a real game changer...

Paul Bailey said...

How Frisco Texas has proven that the bodycam evidence can be tampered with..

The Pragmatic Realist said...

Trigger, good luck with that since I've heard the same predictions made from other circumstances for over 40 years now. Tell it to the Rodney's of the world, the Ida's, or even the Jose's (each case should be immediately recognizable by first name alone. I don't even think we disagree all that much, both of us concur that cameras will have more impact helping police and some officers will be caught screwing up. I just think you embellish things too much as to how much will change, 1 year, 5 years, or even ten years from now; things will remain largely the same.

TriggerMortis said...

I'm back to recalculate my prediction. It seems I spoke in haste without realizing that the body cams may not even need to be discussed before the violence begins.

Some cop in Indiana began selling t-shirts with a "Breathe Easy, Don't Break The Law" slogan on it. Obviously mocking Eric Garner's last words in an attempt to fan the flames and provoke police accountability activists.

It appears to have worked. In a tit-for-tat reaction, some of the most popular police accountability organizations have now endorsed violence for the first time in their history, even going as far as to have their own t-shirts created which affirm their belief that "An end to police brutality will take more than cameras."

I don't recall anything of this nature happening back when Ida was murdered. Too bad there wasn't a video of it, may have gotten to this point a lot sooner.

TriggerMortis said...

Two NYPD Officers just got their heads blown off in an execution attack. Gosh darn it!

Phantom Bureaucrat said...

All the murder of those two cops in NYC did was allow them to further escalate the use of force because it can be more easily said they were "in fear of their life". You may notice an uptick in how much force is used in general terms when a police officer is hurt or killed, the phenomenon has been studied in the past. Some lone coward who shot his girlfriend before engaging in yet another cowardly act of ambushing the police is no hero and any group that embraces him as such will likely lose popular support because even the average protestor knows what will come of it.

But if you think the masses are going to use this act to rally, the act of a single nut case with a lengthy criminal history, that can be your sig line because all it will do is set back your cause for years more. The authorities will point to what kind of crazies are out there preying on police who had nothing to do with Garner or Brown to give police even more ability to protect themselves or act in haste, just watch (again, this is based on historical example).

As far as the man selling t-shirts advocating a course of action that keeps people alive and breathing, good for him. There have certainly been enough willing to cash in on the deaths from the opposite side of things, selling shirts vilifying all who wear a badge or sit on a grand jury. Will it be "hate speech" if one who is as simple as the NYC gunman or his supporters like yourself attack someone wearing one?