Austin police officers don’t wear body cameras during some high-risk operations

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin is raising concerns about high-risk situations in which officers aren’t allowed to wear body cameras. The discussion came as police and council members were discussing a recent audit into the police department’s roll-out of body cameras Tuesday.

Police supervisors say the footage has helped with investigations into a number of cases where officers used deadly force.

“Our officers being able to wear body cameras, I think really helps with trust in our city, and one of the reasons why we’re one of the safest big cities in the country is that we enjoy a really high level of trust between our officers and folks throughout our community,” said Mayor Steve Adler, who brought up his concerns Tuesday as body camera audit results were being discussed.

“It’s that one incident that happens when a camera is turned off that then becomes a defining moment,” Adler told the full room. “We see that happening right now in South Bend, Indiana.”

Adler says he worries that could happen to Austin officers who work on joint task forces with federal agents. Citywide, 38 officers work on 7 different task forces with four federal agencies– the FBI, U.S. Marshals, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Secret Service. Those federal agents aren’t allowed to wear body cameras to protect things like informants and in some cases, national security, so when Austin police officers are working with them, they can’t either.

“Some of their tactics and procedures that they use at the federal level, they don’t want becoming public,” said APD Assistant Police Chief Joseph Chacon.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley is just one of a number of chiefs around the country who’ve been negotiating to change that for more than a year now. After all, task force operations are some of the most dangerous cases police work.

“We certainly don’t want one of our officers being involved in a critical incident and it not being on video,” Chacon said Tuesday following the audit meeting.

The city of Atlanta pulled all of its officers off all federal task forces for that reason. It’s an option APD’s chiefs have considered, but they say they don’t want to resort to that just yet.

“They’re all important things that we do for our community to take bad people off the street,” Chacon said, referring to work done in task forces. “We don’t want to just walk away from that, because that certainly doesn’t make us any more safe.”

Chief Manley told KXAN that in his negotiations with the Department of Justice, he has requested that his officers be allowed to wear their body cameras during planned operations, when they’re executing a search warrant or an arrest warrant. Those are the dangerous situations in which Manley feels officers really need them.

Manley says officers they don’t need their cameras on during any classified conversations or interviews with informants.

Manley says he does feel that the feds have been open to considering that compromise. He says APD won’t consider pulling out of any task forces as long as those conversations are still moving forward.

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