Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bodycams and transparency: Houston PD edition

Just got an email from the good folks at KHOU. It read in part:
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.
  • 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.
You can see the full investigation at bodycamtransparency.com.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...


Ought to be interesting to see what Art Acevedo does with this. I suspect he'll have tougher media coverage in the Houston market.

With all the attention on Harris County's criminal system and its lopsided treatment of offenders of all levels, Acevedo will be lapping up the attention with his "tough" leadership.

I say good riddance and thank you Houston for taking him off our hands!

Anonymous said...

I am weary of the agencies that are still hiding, altering and destroying video with impunity.
It is almost impossible with the state of case law to punish them, because you have to prove that the video you did not get would have helped your case. If you can prove that, you don't need the video.Even if video was missing in an officers four cases previous to the one you are trying, if you don't have an official finding of misconduct that evidence is not coming in as impeachment evidence even though it supports an argument of a pattern of destroying, withholding or altering evidence. The system is well rigged to protect cops who violate laws to obtain evidence or who just flagrantly violate suspects rights. The Michael Morton Act needs teeth. Presumptions and burdens of proof when evidence and documents that should exist mysteriously don't, need to be shifted statutorily against the party that does not have the video that we know should exist according to the agency's policy.

This is infuriating stuff. My most recent example is a DWI arrest where client refused SFST's and the cop in order to bolster his case claims that he had to catch my client by the arm to keep him from falling into traffic and then later had to put his hand on client's chest to keep him from falling into him. We made discovery requests at the first setting for scene and jail video showing my client. Officer testified at the ALR that he did not have dash cam video because his dash cam was being changed out by maintenance. A subpoena was issued and they failed to produce jail or scene video or records documenting the installation of a new dash cam or repair of the old one. Under circumstances like this the claims made by the officer that should have been documented by video should be presumed false without corroboration. Instead we are left without video that my client is confident will show him to be in control of his balance at all times. The cop comes across as a straight arrow. I actually believed him before I could not get any record to confirm his dash cam was replaced. This kind of bullshit repeats itself with frequency that would shock the average citizen who thinks the police would never tell a lie.

Anonymous said...

@4:19

When a police org fails to produce a video of a incident, you have to file a Discovery and/or TPIA for the Logs of the video evidence management system, e.g. Coban et al. Officers have to classify an event to cause it to be retained beyond normal statutory records retention limits. Sometimes an evidence technician has to further "retain" the video. Under Texas law, there are government records laws that prohibit premature deletion along with evidence tampering laws that operate similarly. The video management logs demonstrate if the video was watched prior to deletion. If so, & if deleted, you have a prima facie case of bad faith. To overcome a negligence claim, you need both the org's dash video policy and state records law.

Interested in what you're experiencing.

Anonymous said...

@12:10-

It sounds like the officer was covering up his attempt to sexually assault your client and steal the cash from you client's wallet/purse. And the video, if it existed, would also show the officer pointing his gun at your client's head threatening to shoot him/her, and also making threats to kill his wife/kids/etc in an attempt to extort money from your client.

Gee, if only there were a camera to disprove these events. They must be true otherwise.

Your word versus the officer's.

The Comedian said...

Don't count on tougher coverage of Art Acevedo in the Houston media. Most of them are stenos, not reporters, and pussycats for the fat cats.

I once called the Chronicle "hotline" to report the suicide of an in-custody prisoner that was being covered up by LE. The guy who answered the phone yawned so loudly my eardrum almost burst. He sounded like he was recovering from a hangover. He took no interest in my story, asked no questions and got off the phone abruptly. I decided then that I would never report another story to any news media.

Anonymous said...

The more things change the more they stay the same. It will take an armed insurgency to change the justice system. Judges have sons who are cops who are married to prosecutors. These incestuous relationships prevent true justice and encourage corruption. And there's only one way to end it...

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The Comedian said...

@ 08:33

"In the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away." - Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet) in the Maltese Falcon (1941)

Anonymous said...

Yes,defendant's word against an officer who has lied about why he has no video. This should change the burden and create a rubuttable presumption against the officer. BTW we are not the ones making outlandish statement about the officer in absence of video. It is the other way around. He also made no reference to the missing video in his report. He concocted the unsubstantiated repair scenario after he was questioned about the absence of video. Your sarcasm is not appreciated. Accountability is a two way street being obstructed by dishonest LEOs and facilitated by ADAs willing to sponsor unreliable testimony.

Anonymous said...

It appears that HPD Police Chief Interim Martha Montalvo was lying (from Episode 1). Does she still have a job? Has she been disciplined for relaying false information to the public?
Too many liars, not enough penalties or discipline.

This is why the public doesn't trust govt employees.

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