Should San Antonio Police Use Body Cameras?

SAPD Officer Jackie Len Neal is accused of raping a handcuffed woman in the backseat of his patrol car last November. Courtesy Photo

During a Tuesday budget presentation from the police department, a council member brought up the case of a San Antonio police officer accused of raping a handcuffed woman in the backseat of a patrol car.

District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña brought up the case as an example of where a body camera could have been preventative. He wanted to know about the department’s pilot program.

While Chief of Police William McManus didn’t get into specifics, he said the department should be able to present results to the City Council in December.

Saldaña said looking toward the future, body cameras will become the norm.

“It’s not about one thing that helps one side, the resident. It protects the officer as well,” Saldaña said.

The SAPD began a pilot program in March testing 150 body cameras on Downtown bike patrol officers and police at the West Side Substation, the San Antonio Express News reported.

McManus readily admitted to the council that police departments are trending toward the use of body cameras.

“In the wake of Ferguson and other issues that have occurred around the country, there is going to by a cry for body cameras,” McManus said. “That’s just the way things are developing, the way things are heading.”

However, the police chief said he had a lot of questions about body camera use, including how body cameras and in-car cameras would be used—together or separately—and how, his perspective, the cameras don’t always pick up video the police want picked up. McManus also said the cameras are expensive and a lot of storage is needed to hold all the video.

“Once you go down that road, there’s no going back,” McManus said. “We have to be real clear about what we want. What it’s going to cost. What works best for the officer and the community.”

City Manager Sheryl Scully said the City Council has the authority to set money aside for funding at the mid-budget cycle to fund the cameras, in the event the SAPD makes a recommendation to adopt the use of the cameras.

Saldaña said he’s hearing that at some point, the federal government may kick in funds where municipalities can be reimbursed for implementing the use of body cameras. He urged the council and police to act in a proactive manner in December.

As for body cameras, the American Civil Liberties Union published a report in 2013 that said body cameras could be a win-win for police and the communities that pay taxes to fund their operations, including salaries.

With that said, here’s a video of body cameras in use by the Aransas Pass Police Department as one of its officers rescues a dog and her puppy from a harbor.

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