Austin Safety Commissioners Recommend Cautious Approach to Body Camera Policy

It appears the earliest the police department could adopt a formal citywide body camera program would be in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

by Philip Jankowski, Austin American-Statesman / May 5, 2015

(TNS) -- Support for the use of body cameras by Austin police officers continued to gain momentum Monday from the Public Safety Commission, but the formal recommendation warned against moving too quickly.

At their monthly meeting, commissioners voted 4 to 1, with one commissioner absent, for a recommendation that asked the City Council to proceed with caution as it creates a body camera program.

It asks for full consideration of current research on the use of body cameras, the development of a privacy policy to protect victims and witnesses, the selection of technology that allows body cameras to activate automatically and a budget that pays the full costs of launching and operating the program.

The commission recommended that the funds should be in addition to the Austin Police Department's normal budget.

Commission Chair Kim Rossmo helped write the recommendation with Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley.

"There are a lot of unintended consequences," Rossmo said. "Let's be cautious and careful and not just react to current events."

Commissioner Rebecca Webber cast the lone dissenting vote. After the meeting, Webber said she agreed with the contents of the recommendation but not the sentiment behind it. She said the commission's recommendation might undermine work underway in the council Public Safety Committee chaired by Council Member Don Zimmerman. That committee heard testimony largely in favor of body cameras last week.

It appears the earliest the police department could adopt a formal citywide body camera program would be in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The program carries an estimated $7 million price tag that would be spread out over five years, police officials have said. Though providing the initial $2 million to start to purchase cameras could happen as the city continues to write the 2015-16 budget, the worry is that examinations of technical issues facing body cameras would not be complete in time.

Much of the technical evaluations of any body cameras would not be completed by the time next year's budget is approved, Zimmerman told the American-Statesman Monday.

The cost of buying the cameras is relatively cheap. But additional costs come from data storage and the staffing needed to process the large amount of video created.

©2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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