AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Office of Police Oversight (OPO) released a list of 17 policy and process changes Thursday it recommends the Austin Police Department to apply to its body-worn and dashboard camera practices.

“OPO looks forward to working with APD and City leadership to act on these recommendations and continue the important work of revising the General Orders to incorporate community input, increase transparency, and enhance accountability,” OPO stated in its report.

Earlier this year, OPO released a report on current APD policies, saying its “research revealed that APD’s policies related to body-worn cameras and dashboard cams do not align with national best practice.”

The report released Thursday is the third and final phase of OPO’s three-part initiative to reimagine APD’s policies on the use of body and dashboard cameras.

In the January report, OPO said the current APD policies on the matter permitted officers to turn off their cameras for “administration reasons,” but these reasons were not clearly defined in the guidebook. In order to make this process more transparent, OPO directed APD to clarify when an officer is permitted to turn off one of their cameras.

OPO also found APD’s guidelines do not require an officer to disclose whether they used a body cam during an incident, nor does it direct an officer to document why they opted not to record an encounter when they should have. The recommendation suggests the police further clarify when — and when not — to wear a body camera. It also recommended “that potential violations of the body-worn camera and dashboard camera policies be investigated.”  

KXAN asked what disciplinary action might be taken if an officer violates one of these rules, and OPO said this would be up to APD to decide. We have reached out to APD about this.

There were also recommendations on developing instructions on how to inform a community member when they’re being recorded; incorporating community feedback into policy development, especially in communities that are disproportionately policed; and being more transparent about policies and policy changes.

OPO said in an email to KXAN it submitted the final recommendations to the city manager, city council and APD.

“APD is responsible for working with the City Manager’s Office to review and act on these final recommendations,” Christina Tangredi, public information specialist for OPO, said.  

Below is the full list of the 17 recommendations from OPO.

  1. Request and use public feedback when writing and developing policies on the use of body-worn and dashboard cameras.
  2. Update the purpose and scope sections of the body-worn and dashboard camera policies to emphasize the City of Austin’s commitment to reducing racial profiling, reducing the use of force, and improving community relationships and make it clear that these cameras can play a role in supporting that effort.
  3. Provide clearer definitions and guidelines when laws are unclear.
  4. Provide officers with clearer instructions for when they must start and stop recording with their cameras. This should apply to the capture of video and audio.
  5. Require officers to acknowledge their use of body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras in police reports.
  6. Provide instructions for officers to use when telling community members that their interaction is being recorded.
  7. Require supervisors to make sure that dashboard cameras and body-worn cameras are in working condition and being used correctly.
  8. Require that potential violations of the body-worn camera and dashboard camera policies be investigated.
  9. Partner with OPO to develop a transparent and formalized process for soliciting and incorporating community feedback during policy development.
  10. Work with OPO to build an engagement process that considers different mediums and formats to balance large-scale, community-wide outreach with targeted outreach aimed at those who have lived experience and are most impacted by policing in Austin and the specific policies under review.
  11. Devote human and economic resources to collecting and synthesizing community feedback for policy drafting.
  12. Publish a schedule of planned updates to the General Orders at the beginning of each calendar year and update it as needed.
  13. Publish information about the source of its policies.
  14. Publish background information to explain the reason for each policy change.
  15. Publish and share policies in a manner that is accessible to those who have disabilities and communication barriers.
  16. Reconsider the role that vendors play in the policymaking process.
  17. Meet with OPO to discuss the recommendations stemming from this project and identify the processes and resources necessary to act on them.

Rewriting APD policies

Following months of protesters calling for police reform in 2020, Austin City Council passed a series of resolutions to reimagine APD. One of those resolutions asked OPO to rewrite the APD policy manual.

The scope of the policy rewrites includes body and dash cameras, search and seizure, mental health response, discipline bias, language and courtesy.

OPO said the next policy rewrite will be announced in the coming months but did not answer what area it will tackle.

It said community members can stay up-to-date by following OPO on Facebook and Twitter or signing up for its email newsletter.

The City Manager’s Office welcomes the OPO’s report and recommendations and will review them thoroughly with the Police Chief before determining next steps,” APD said in a statement.