Special committee on police issues meets for the first time

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – In an ever changing state, Texas authorities need to stay up to date on everything from drones to human trafficking.

This session, House Speaker Joe Straus created the Select Committee on Emerging Issues in Texas Law Enforcement. In the proclamation, Straus requested the committee focus on a broad range of topics that include: body camera, drone surveillance, border security, human trafficking, active shooters, and the ongoing mental health crisis.

Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, was chosen as chair and Rep. Dawnna Duke, D-Austin, is vice-chair.

“The committee shall investigate and review the training and professional needs of law enforcement in the state of Texas, including the award and sufficiency of law enforcement training grants, methods of training, and types of training-including training in emerging or changing threats such as human trafficking, mental health crisis and confrontation, organized crime, and critical incident shooting,” Straus said in his proclamation.

There is dramatic video captured on police body cameras, but much of it is personal and run-of-the-mill video. Police could be recording when they enter your house and anyone can ask for a copy. The new committee will try to balance privacy laws with the public’s right to know.

“There are complaints every day where officers go into someone’s home and they’re complaining about their next door neighbor, well guess what the police don’t tell them, hey your neighbor is complaining about you,” said Fletcher.

Many lawmakers and police ask for changes in the Texas Open Records law. They want body camera footage to only be available when a crime is committed – and not calls like domestic disputes.

Chief Sean Mannix has equipped his officers in Cedar Park with body cameras but, representing the Texas Police Chief Association, says all that footage shouldn’t be open to the public.

“They get that information and they can use it for whatever purpose they want,” he said. “Whether it’s posting it on Facebook or Twitter or embarrassing that person.”

“If because of open records and social networking, your neighbor can find out what this individual just said and sees what you were talking about. We’re going to cause more disturbances and more problems,” said Fletcher.

Several local police departments have decided to equip their officers with body cameras. The hope is that the cameras will provide more transparency between police and the community. Officers in Lakeway, Georgetown and Burnet currently have body cameras. The Austin Police Department is in the process of selecting and buying the cameras.

While many departments are eager for the new devices, they have also expressed concerns about managing the video.

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