Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why so little video of Houston police shootings?

A New York Times article yesterday titled "Lack of video hampers inquiries into Houston police shootings," discussed here by Amanda Woog, highlighted the fact that, unlike most other Texas police departments, Houston PD does not have dashcams in the overwhelming majority of its police cars. As a result, "there was no video of ... most of the dozens of other questionable shootings of unarmed people by Houston police officers during the past decade. None of them led to the criminal prosecution of an officer or significant discipline by the department"

What the article didn't explain was why Houston cop cars don't have cameras.

Most Texas law enforcement agencies first installed dashchams after Texas' racial profiling law passed in 2001. That legislation required reporting on racial information about drivers at traffic stops and vehicle searches. In addition, the Lege authorized $18 million in bonds (which voters approved) to pay for dashcams to be installed in local police cars. As an incentive to use them, the Lege created much more extensive data reporting requirements which an agency could opt out of if it installed dashcams in their cars. If an agency had applied for a camera grant but there wasn't enough money, the law stipulated, they were still exempt from the extra reporting.

Ironically, at the time the law-enforcement lobby collectively was far more afraid of the data reporting than the video. The "tier one" data collection gave some information, but it's impossible to prove discrimination from it in any meaningful sense. The "tier two" data, however, included more detail on consent search patterns which would, it was presumed, be sufficient to measure use of officer discretion, and that's what departments really wanted to avoid. Thus, dashcams were adopted rather non-controversially by agencies which received grants.

It turned out, though, the cameras were the much more significant reform. While in the first year there was some probative reporting by departments, by the second the larger ones had begun to parse their definitions differently and report data in ways that made it more difficult to draw valid conclusions. (You can't really tell much from the tier two data as it's reported today.) Meanwhile, dashcam video became commonplace and brought with it more of an impulse toward accountability than one would have assumed from the intensity of debates back in 2001 over data collection.

As a practical matter, the bond money paid for everybody who applied for dashcams except for Texas' two largest cities - Dallas and Houston. So they were able to forego full implementation of dashcams, with Houston, if memory serves, getting either none or a token number. Reported the Times, "Currently, only about 100 of the department’s 5,200 officers have [body] cameras, and about 200 cars are equipped with dashboard cameras."

HPD now says "most officers would have body cameras within 18 months," reported the Times, but as we know, most body camera footage, unlike dashcam footage, is not subject to the Public Information Act.


The Phantom Bureaucrat said...

If memory serves, Houston PD chose not to take the grant money for the dash cameras because the long term costs were prohibitive. The grant money would not have outfitted all the cars and past experience with camera systems showed the costs not covered by the grants were much greater, their VHS systems requiring a lot of manpower when they moved from having a couple dozen cameras circa 2001 (DWI task force, truck inspecting units) to include their newly re-established traffic enforcement division soon after.

There was at least one internal memorandum about it you can probably obtain via the information act, Chief Bradford unwilling to spend money on rape kits, proper training, and needed equipment though now in charge of the search for a replacement to their retiring chief who leaves tomorrow. You might want to include the part the Chronicle mentions how most of the people the cops shot were engaged in felony activity, most with a weapon at that or refusing to obey lawful orders, but the lack of cameras was driven by costs, not a conspiracy to encourage officers to shoot people.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

HPD was never offered the grant money, TPB, the state spent it all on the smaller departments and ran out. Also, nobody but you suggested there is a "conspiracy to encourage officers to shoot people." Finally, I linked to the Chronicle coverage but the line you paraphrase eludes me. One does notice that "In about a third of the shootings (since 2010), the citizens were unarmed. Eight of those individuals died, while 31 people were injured." And of course, for the suspects who died, whether they were engaged in the activities you mention is a mere unproven allegation, particularly without video to back it up.

George said...


Ditto what GFB said. It's simply amazing how many just assume a person is guilty without it being proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. For your info TPB, most people who comment here do their homework and have access to facts that back it up so trying to sell hawgs here doesn't usually work too well.

Just because someone has a weapon and is stopped or detained by law enforcement does not mean that they are/were engaged in felonious activity, especially now with open-carry here in Texas. Chances are that most LE do their jobs professionally and only use their weapons when absolutely necessary but mistakes do happen and there are cops who are closet socio/psychopathic in nature. Thus the need for video in ALL instances, in fact I would say that from the first moment an individual has an encounter with a LE official to the very last it should all be recorded. This includes the ride, if any, in a cruiser/van, booking etc.

Shoot first and try to explain it later seems to be the course of action for quite a few law enforcement officials. I know it's a worn phrase but if all you've got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The Phantom Bureaucrat said...

Grits, George;
Believe what you want to believe but I was there and when asked, the Chief stated he DID NOT WANT the added costs of dash cameras as the grants Whitmire and other state leaders were cobbling together most certainly were to include Houston. I was in favor of cameras then and remain in favor of cameras now, remembering the lengthy response from "Brad" how most shootings would have been outside the field of vision of a dash mounted camera, how many officers would have to be laid off to pay for the ancillary costs even if the grants would have covered the cameras, their installation, and subsequent maintenance costs, and the logistical nightmare of keeping track of it all on a shoestring budget.

But even if a number of them did not have a weapon, and there is no law requiring such to make a shooting a "good shoot", by all means avail yourselves of the extensive documentation by local, county, and federal authorities on many of these cases to prove the lack of compliance, immediacy of the threats involved, and the super majority of cases where a crime was taking place to justify the shootings. That doesn't mean a blank check but the belief that a dash camera would have captured proof one way or the other in many cases is laughable, hence my continued support for body cameras on each and every officer with a open records policy that would grant access far more readily, "in the interests of furthering a law enforcement purpose".