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ANC calls for body cameras for local police

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Austin Neighborhoods Council is calling for the use of body cameras by active-duty police officers.

In a resolution approved last week, the ANC proposed the cameras, citing mistrust between neighbors and police; higher rates of incarceration, use of force and targeting toward communities of color; and a desire to “begin a larger process of dialogue for procedural reform impacting institutional inequality.”

Andrew Bucknall, who is the ANC representative for the Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Association, presented the resolution to the Public Safety Commission on Monday.

ANC President Mary Ingle also spoke, and encouraged commissioners to support the acquisition of body cameras.

“This could be the first step in sort of bridging the gap that exists in our community between races, between genders and between sexual orientations. This is for fairness and equity for all citizens,” said Ingle.

Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Brian Manley said the APD was actively looking toward implementing body cameras, but was working to meet specific criteria. They, like the ANC, didn’t have a concrete timeline for getting the cameras up and running.

“We’re just waiting for the industry to get the technology where we want it to be,” said Manley, “so when we do implement a system, it’s the system that is right for Austin.

“We want a system that meets the current parameters that we have in place for our in-car camera systems,” Manley continued. “We want a system that, when the officer steps out of their car, opens the door or flips on the emergency lights, that the body camera automatically comes on, along with the in-car camera.

“We don’t want the officer to have to think through that extra step to turn on the body camera, as they may be getting out the car to approach a dangerous situation. And we don’t want to get a critical incident that is not captured on the body camera because the officer did not turn it on.”

Manley also told commissioners that the issue of video storage was “a significant one.” He said that, though the APD has detailed guidelines in place that dictate what videos should be stored and for how long, the 2013 Michael Morton Law had extended the length of time they were required to store videos. Manley promised the commission written documentation on the matter.

Chair Kim Rossmo said that body cameras were inevitable, but it was important that they be implemented properly. He cited data costs, privacy concerns and access under the Freedom of Information Act, saying, “There’s a lot of things that have to carefully be thought through. They’ve not been thought through anywhere fully by anyone. There are some experimental programs, but there are still many more questions to ask.”

“We don’t want a cure worse than the disease,” said Rossmo.

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