AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Police Department admits there are challenges rolling out new body cameras to many of its officers.
About a year ago, the department moved forward with plans to require officers to wear body cameras, with the goal of bringing more accountability and transparency to the force.
Since being granted the money to purchase 1,500 body cameras last fall, APD has put more than 1,300 in to use and plans to roll out the remaining couple of hundred cameras by the end of August.
The agency is also budgeting to add 400 more body cameras down the road. At that point, Assistant Chief Troy Gay says every officer on patrol will be wearing one, including lieutenants and sergeants.
“We want to make sure that our officers have something that’s versatile, but also something that’s going to stay on their bodies,” said Cmdr. Brent Dupre, who oversees Intelligence and Technology for APD.
However, Dupre says the magnetic body camera mounts, which are designed to be easily movable, have caused some issues. “We’ve had incidences where the mounting system has fallen off of the uniform,” Dupre told Austin Public Safety Commission board members Monday night.
One notable case is that in which a cellphone video of an officer punching a suspect on the Fourth of July went viral. The officer could be seen punching a suspect who APD says was armed with a knife. However, only the cellphone video shows what happened, because APD says one officer’s body camera wasn’t working and another officer’s camera fell off.
“Is this leading to any re-evaluation of how the cameras are worn or what to do in these cases if they fall off?” asked Public Safety Commission board member Edward Scruggs of the incident.
Dupre answered, “We are currently testing some prototype mounts that are a different style that don’t utilize magnets and use more of a pinching fabric with a clip onto the uniform.”
If that prototype proves to be more secure and goes into production, Dupre says APD will replace its magnetic mounts.
Gay and Dupre also added the majority of public information requests for police body camera footage haven’t been granted yet this year. Between January and June, Gay says there were 57 requests, but only 10 of those have resulted in any video being released. In some cases, video cannot be released because an investigation is still open or court approval is required. In other cases, the requestee may have canceled his or her request. However, Gay says 17 of the requests couldn’t be fulfilled because there simply wasn’t any footage recorded.