The majority of 100 Houston Police Department officers who have field tested body cameras over a recent two-month period called it a positive experience, though many expressed concern that the technology could endanger officer safety or be used by superiors to discipline them, according to an internal report obtained this week by the Houston Chronicle.
That technology is expected to be adopted department-wide beginning this summer as a way to increase police accountability.
In one case, a body camera video later helped confirm the validity of an on-scene confession, the survey showed.
In all, 72 officers who responded to the survey rated the body camera experience either very positive, positive or somewhat positive. Only 7 officers found the experience unacceptable, according to the report.
Some officers complained they felt reluctant to use necessary force on suspects -or even forceful language – for fear of being accused by superiors of abusive behavior. Others said they were distracted by the camera, reacted more slowly instead of relying on their “natural reactions,” or even placed themselves in a dangerous position during a traffic stop to get a better camera angle on the scene.
“Having to remember to activate a camera when engaging in a foot pursuit, ending a car chase or approaching a vehicle in a traffic stop reduces focus on the task at hand,” said one officer surveyed.
But it’s still unclear when officers will have to turn on – or off -those cameras, and HPD has refused to release a draft policy it’s developing.
Several officers complained about “vague guidelines” for use of their test cameras. That same complaint is also being raised by two Houston attorneys defending two different residents whose arrests were recorded with the cameras.
A copy of the report is at the story link. I’ll say again, we do need to know how HPD plans to use these things. We’re almost at the time for the planned rollout, so any day now would be nice. In the meantime, the Lege is moving on a bill that would “create a statewide grant program to fund training, the purchase of equipment and the cost of implementing the policy that would draw upon federal funds”. As such, if Houston is having a positive experience with body cameras, then there’s good hope the rest of the state can as well.