In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed SB 158, which establishes a statewide grant program through which Texas law enforcement agencies may apply for funding to equip their frontline officers with body worn cameras.
The law was a strong first step, creating incentives for body camera adoption – and those incentives are working. Per the law, various agencies have adopted a body camera policy. However, in some instances, the community has reacted with concern that their local policy is not comprehensive enough to adequately ensure transparency and accountability.
Texas policy-makers should allow officers, following a critical incident, to see body camera videos in accordance with best investigative practices: they can make an initial statement, view the video, and then make additional statements as necessary. Furthermore, all critical incident video should be released to the public in a reasonable timeframe (e.g., within 30 days).
Separately, officers should be required to tell people they are being recorded as soon as possible, and officers should seek consent to record inside a residence without a warrant. If information about a witness or victim’s address will be revealed, the cameras should be turned off.
Lastly, local policies should create a clear framework for people to consent to the release of a video from traffic stops or video taken in a private home.
Body cameras are likely to provide the best factual information about an incident that community members and their local police department have ever had. As such, they are a widely supported approach to accountability and can help build trust between the police force and those who pay their salaries.
- Following the passage of SB 158, Texas’ largest police agencies have moved forward with new body camera programs (Austin, San Antonio, Dallas) or have expanded existing programs (Houston). Smaller departments are also moving forward with grant applications. Even some school districts have moved to implement cameras.
- Bill Number: SB 1201 [West]
Bill Caption: Relating to the release of a body worn camera recording to the subject of that recording.
- TCJC Fact Sheet: Police Body Camera Policy in Texas [August 2016]