Tuesday, March 3, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Public Safety Commission previews APD’s critical incident video policy

Following Council’s request in February for a policy governing the automatic public release of videos in critical cases, Farah Muscadin, director of the Office of Police Oversight, presented a draft policy to the Public Safety Commission on March 2.

Muscadin, who has been working on a policy to release footage associated with critical incidents to the public since December 2018, said that her office and the Austin Police Department looked to the Los Angeles Police Department for a model on how to most effectively release footage to the public. “They provide a synopsis of what has transpired,” she explained.

APD Chief of Staff Troy Gay told the Public Safety Commission that the police department’s pilot video will be finished in the next several weeks. The accompanying policy for video release, he said, will be complete by the end of the month.

Muscadin told the Austin Monitor that Chief Brian Manley will be doing part of the narration in the videos, which will take footage from the incident and contextualize it with an explanation of the scenario. Raw footage will be accessible to the public through a public information request.

The draft policy presented at Monday’s commission meeting says the department will release a video within 90 days of a critical incident. Under certain circumstances, APD may delay the release of a video if the chief of police determines that the footage may jeopardize the safety of involved officers, bystanders or witnesses; the integrity of an active investigation; confidential sources or investigative techniques; or a suspect’s constitutional rights.

The chief of police may also determine that no video of the incident will be released. In such a case, the draft policy says that the department will post a statement summarizing the reasons for not releasing the video within 60 days of the incident.

Gay told the commission that creating these videos also included a partnership with the District Attorney’s Office, since “they’re the ones who are prosecuting these particular cases and looking at them,” he said.

Both Muscadin and Gay agreed that releasing the videos to the public was important both for transparency within the police department and as an opportunity to educate the public on how officers operate while on duty.

For an example of what to expect, Muscadin played a video from LAPD showing a critical incident situation in a metro station where a man who was threatening security officers with a knife was fatally shot.

A critical incident is a scenario where an officer uses lethal force while on duty.

Commissioner Chris Harris said that he thought the video’s mention of the individual’s prior criminal history was an unnecessary addition.

“We agree with your assessment, and we agree that that doesn’t have any bearing on the incident itself,” said Gay, who confirmed that a suspect’s past criminal history will not be included in the synopsis of a critical incident video recap.

Muscadin told the Monitor that once the draft policy is finalized at the end of the month, she expects it to be quickly adopted by APD. Since the average number of police-involved shootings is six per year, she said, the police department will not find itself with a backlog of video production requests.

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Public Safety Commission: The Public Safety Commission is a City Council advisory body charged with oversight of budgetary and policy matters concerning public safety These include matters related to the Austin Police Department, the Austin Fire Department, and the Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services Department."

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