San Antonio police accused of turning off body cameras rarely suspended, investigation shows

click to enlarge San Antonio police are required to turn on their body-worn cameras when interacting with the public. - Shutterstock
San Antonio police are required to turn on their body-worn cameras when interacting with the public.
Cops accused of breaking the San Antonio Police Department's body-worn camera rules are seldom suspended for those violations, a new KSAT news investigation reveals.

Department officials reviewed 256 alleged body cam infractions from June 2018 to June 2021, according to the station's analysis of disciplinary records, but only in 42 of those cases — less than one in five — resulted in an officer being suspended for a day or more.

SAPD policy requires officers to activate their body cams during interactions with the public.

Most alleged infractions during the three-year period involved an officer muting the camera or failing to turn it on, according to KSAT's analysis. The station also found that officers rarely face discipline for the first violation of camera policy.

SAPD officials told KSAT the low suspension rate isn't reason for concern. They maintain that the circumstances behind each reported violation determine the level of punishment, adding that the department uses a "progressive discipline model" in which personnel receive more stringent punishments if they break a rule more than once.

However, police-accountability activists told the station that if officers can avoid punishment for violating the policy, they're unlikely to take the rule seriously.

“If an officer knows they can get away one, two, three, four times, whatever it is, without activating their body camera, whether it’s the audio, the visual or both, there’s an issue there," said Ananda Tomas, executive director of the group ACT 4 SA. "There’s no punishment for them to learn accountability and to change that behavior."

Body cam footage has played a key role in San Antonians' understanding of high-profile police incidents, including the fatal police shooting of Steven Primm in August and last year's arrest of Mathias Ometu, a Black jogger officers forced into the back of a patrol vehicle in a case of mistaken identity.

In December 2020, SAPD said it would begin releasing body cam footage to the public in instances where an officer shoots someone or uses force that results in death. After balking at the release of at least three such incidents since the rule change, the department agreed to release edited versions of the footage.

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