Texas Legislature Will Take up Police Body-camera Bill

Texas Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) announces details behind a police body-camera bill while flanked by law enforcement officials at Dallas Police Headquarters. - TEXAS SENATOR ROYCE WEST
Texas Senator Royce West
Texas Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) announces details behind a police body-camera bill while flanked by law enforcement officials at Dallas Police Headquarters.

Texas legislators will take up a bill next year that would provide grant funding to help Lone Star State police departments purchase body cameras.

Under the proposal, to be eligible for the funds, police departments must have policy for the cameras that includes guidelines for activation, discontinuation of recording and guidelines for certain privacy situations where turning off a body camera would be appropriate. The policy must also include provisions for data retention, storage, creation of back-up files, maintenance and data security, and the policy must be consistent with Federal and Texas Rules of Evidence.

The bill filed by Texas Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) would take effect September 1, 2015, if passed. In early December, President Barack Obama proposed a three-year $263 million funding package to assist American law enforcement agencies in obtaining body-worn cameras.

West told The Dallas Morning News that the bill is a "shell" that will be worked out during the legislative session.

The proposed legislation, which requires police officers to activate the cameras when responding to calls, also provides protections for police, granting peace officers several instances in which they do not need to activate the cameras.

"An officer equipped with a body worn camera shall activate the camera when responding to calls for assistance and when performing other law enforcement activities, including traffic stops, pursuits, arrests, searches, or interrogations, unless activation of the camera would be unsafe, unrealistic, or impracticable," the proposed legislation states. "An officer equipped with a body worn camera may choose not to activate a camera or may choose to discontinue a recording currently in progress for any nonconfrontational encounter with a person, including an interview of a witness or victim."

The proposal would prohibit police officers on duty from using body cameras not issued by their employer, and prohibits tampering, deletion or unauthorized copies of body-worn camera data.

And if any police officer is accused of "an incident," which at its face may include an "allegedly criminal incident," they get to review any available body-camera footage of the incident prior to making a statement.

"An officer is entitled to access any recording of an incident involving the officer before making a statement about the incident," is the proposed language.

In closing, the bill would require any law enforcement agency operating a body-worn camera program on the effective date of the legislation—September 1, 2015—to implement policy required in the bill.

The San Antonio Police Department recommended to City Council that it approve the purchase of 210 body cameras for the park police and downtown bike patrol, which are currently the only two units that have no video-recorded oversight.

Read the proposal for yourself:

Sb 00158 i Body Cam Bill