AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last year, the Austin Police Department put in a policy meant to increase transparency and community trust: producing videos of “critical incidents” that incorporate police body camera and dash camera video and narration. Only one such incident has been released on time since APD’s policy went into effect last year.
APD is supposed to release these “Critical Incident Community Briefing” videos for situations where officers fire their guns, use force that leads to death or injury and deaths while in custody. Before it’s released to the public, the next of kin, attorneys, officers involved and city officials will watch it.
Under its policy, the video should be released 60 days after the incident. That did not happen in the most recent video release case — a hostage situation and shooting that happened Feb. 10 in east Austin. APD told KXAN the February winter storm pushed back the video release. It announced three times the video would be delayed and released the video Thursday, June 17 — more than a week ahead of its latest schedule. APD explained previously that it produces these videos one after another, so the delay of the February case video also delayed the release of a video related to an April 9 shooting.
The one video which was released on time was related to a police shooting at a north Austin hotel in January. The suspect was shot in the leg.
“I think we underestimated how long it would take, particularly when you have so many departments working on it,” said Office of Police Oversight Director Farah Muscadin.
Muscadin said she was the one who originally proposed being more transparent with video releases. She said the city compromised by following a release policy modeled after the Los Angeles Police Department’s, which educates people on the circumstances surrounding the video being released.
“What has been challenging is the putting together the video in a way that explains it and provides context in a very fair and impartial perspective, and that just fundamentally takes a lot of time,” Muscadin said.
Muscadin said in addition to her office, APD, the district attorney’s office and the city’s tech and communications offices must be involved in the process.
Muscadin said she’s hopeful Austin will soon move to a policy more like Houston’s new critical incident video release policy.
Houston’s policy now requires police to release body camera footage from officers who use their weapons in critical incidents within a maximum of 30 days.
“Our goal is to release the videos as quickly as we can,” said Houston Police Chief Troy Finner at the beginning of the month, when the department released video of its first critical incident since the policy change.
All involved officers’ raw, unedited body camera footage clips from the incident were uploaded online for the public, as well as an informational video that didn’t require as much production and could be put out more quickly.
KXAN also compared other cities’ policies. Dallas has a quick turn around, requiring footage to be released within 72 hours of a critical incident. The San Antonio Police Department changed its policy at the end of last year. It now requires footage from critical incidents to be released within 60 days.