In an era of smartphones and social media, body cameras have become increasingly prevalent in police departments nationwide. Our five-person investigative team, based out of Houston, is part of TEGNA and KHOU. TEGNA has a new initiative in two of its stations to take a group of journalists “off the grid” and allow them to work on a project until it’s complete. On Sunday, our team launched our first project and we are hoping you will share our investigation with the readers of Grits For Breakfast. We researched more than 60 police departments nationwide to get information on their body-camera programs.
Here’s a bit more information:
Body cameras are touted as tools to help on both sides of the lens: for the police and the citizens. To date, nearly 4,000 departments have implemented a body-camera program. The focus of our investigation is the Houston Police Department’s $8 million body-camera program, touted as the blueprint to transparency and accountability.
But a four-month investigation by KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston, found that the body-camera program is falling short of its promise. In a four-part docu-series called Transparency, KHOU investigates HPD’s implementation of the program.
The major findings were:
- HPD promised to conduct monthly audits of videos to check that officers are recording when it counts. We found that one random audit was conducted in six months.
- The Harris County District Attorney’s Office is missing videos in more than 700 cases. Houston’s interim police chief did not dispute this, but said they are investigating the issue.
- HPD delivered videos in 132 cases to the DA for use in court after the cases were already closed.
You can see the full investigation at bodycamtransparency.com.
- Although the vendor that provides HPD’s cameras offers a safety net that ensures that footage will not be missed (free of charge), HPD chose not to activate that function.