Having the body cameras is great, but it’s how we use them that really matters.
Harris County’s two largest police agencies are testing body cameras on officers but refuse to release their policies detailing when the cameras should be turned on and off to maximize accountability and minimize intrusiveness.
The Houston Police Department spent $108,000 to buy 100 VIEVU body cameras in May 2013 and began testing them later that year. The pager-sized cameras are worn on the front of an officer’s uniform.
In the months since, HPD has balked at releasing anything but anecdotal information about the results of its pilot project.
In September, the Houston Chronicle filed an open records request asking HPD for its report on the test, a copy of the policy that governed the camera test and copies of videos from the first month in cases that had a final disposition or figured in the outcome of a citizen’s complaint against an HPD officer.
Earlier this week, HPD released edited videos of six encounters its officers had with citizens, including traffic stops, a domestic dispute, a foot chase and a nighttime incident in which the officer drew his gun and yelled commands to arrest a suspect without incident.
However, HPD now claims it did not know what report the Chronicle was referring to. It has asked the Texas attorney general to allow it to withhold the results because comments made by officers evaluating the equipment could endanger the process of purchasing additional cameras.
HPD also has asked the attorney general to allow it to withhold the camera test policy.
Sheriff Adrian Garcia also has declined to release his agency’s test policy, claiming the same exemption.
“Right now, we are not sharing the pilot project policy because it’s not the final policy,” said Alan Bernstein, director of public affairs.
See here for some background. I get that HPD and the Sheriff’s office are still in testing mode and don’t want to feel like they’re committing to anything until they’re ready, but other agencies like the HISD police have released their test policies, and if they can do it others can as well. More to the point, the cameras are about transparency and building trust with the public. This would be a good place to start. Let’s get on with it.