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Austin body camera policy experiences hiccups with requests for access

Tuesday, August 7, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

It is important for citizens to have access to police body camera footage to help promote transparency and trust within the community. Unfortunately, “There are very specific guidelines of who can request and who we can release to. It’s very, very restrictive,” explained Austin Police Department Assistant Chief Troy Gay at the Aug. 6 meeting of the Public Safety Commission. Commissioner Daniela Nuñez agreed with his assessment. “There are no clear rules for APD releasing that footage to the public,” she said. “It would be great to clarify that.” Among the restrictions, the police department will not release footage until an investigation is complete. Still, even if an individual meets all the prerequisites to have access to body camera footage, sometimes they are not granted it. “From January 1 through June 8 we’ve had 57 body-worn cam requests. We’ve fulfilled 10 of those requests,” said Gay. The department was unable to fulfill the other 47 requests due to no footage being available, the case being under open investigation, or the individual withdrawing their request. However, even those that were fulfilled are taking a little time to come down from the data cloud and into the hands of the public. State law requires the police department to respond to a request within 10 days, but Gay says, “We are at least 30 if not 60 days behind on some of those returns.” The police department originally implemented the use of body cameras last October and has so far deployed 1300 cameras to officers. Through a federal grant, they are entitled to 1500, and Gay says that they plan to have that many on the streets by September when the grant runs out. He noted that there is a possibility of adding an additional 400 cameras next year if Council grants them the funds in the budgeting process.

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