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City Urged to 'Proceed Cautiously' When it Comes to Police Body Cameras

Nathan Bernier
The city's Public Safety Commission, which advises the city council on police policies, is expected to tell the city to proceed with caution when it comes to police body cameras.

In the wake of high profile police shootings across the country, a lot of cities are considering equipping their police officers with body cameras

Today, Austin’s Public Safety Commission will vote on recommendations for Austin Police.

Austin is no stranger to outrage and pain over police shootings. That's one reason Nelson Linder, head of the city’s NAACP chapter, spoke in favor of body cameras at a public hearing held by the City Council's Public Safety Committee last week.

“If the DOJ says, 'look, here’s the best practices'...Why can’t we fast-forward this whole process?” he asked.

But today the Public Safety Commission, which advises the city council on police policies, is expected to tell the city to proceed with caution. 

“That’s what we’re saying is proceed slowly, carefully and cautiously. Don’t jump on a political bandwagon,” says Texas State University Criminologist Kim Rossmo, who chairs the commission. He’s worried about the cost and privacy concerns raised by the cameras, among other things.

“What about about a rape victim? What about a domestic assault victim? Do you camera that? Who do you give access to?” he asks.

At last week's policy discussion, a representative of APD pointed to research finding that body cameras seem to improve the behavior of both officers and members of the public when they know they’re being recorded.

Still, Austin Police Monitor Margo Fraser also cautioned against rushing into things as other law enforcement agencies have done.

“They wanted to put something in place because of a crisis, and so all of a sudden they go out and put body cameras on officers, and what winds up happening without clear guidelines, and particularly sometimes without the automatic triggers and then you have an incident and there’s no footage, and then what does the public think?” Fraser asked.

Fraser does, however, think the proposal to take up to two years to get cameras into the field is too long.

Linder agrees.

“This thing about two years, that kind of bothers me a little bit, because these are urgent issues. And given the fact that it’s already in place across the country, and given Austin, Texas’ budget and reputation, I don’t think it takes two years,” he says. 

Regardless of the Commission vote, it’s unlikely you’ll see body cameras on Austin police any time soon. The city council committee seems interested in learning more about the topic before taking any action. It could be in the city budget for fiscal year 2017. Today’s Public Safety Commission meeting starts at 4 p.m. at City Hall.

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