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Austin Faced with Significant DWI Body Cam Backlog

Police body camera footage taken during more than 2,600 enforcement stops must be sorted before the cases against offenders can go to court. Officials are considering additional personnel and technology for the undertaking.

by Tony Plohetski, Austin American-Statesman / August 15, 2019

(TNS) — Austin police and other criminal justice officials have begun chipping away at a backlog of more than 2,600 videos from drunken driving arrests that were causing months of delays before cases moved forward.

In addressing the backlog, officials also have set up a system that lets them keep up with as many as 1,500 pieces of new footage they receive each month, transferring them from police inventory to felony and misdemeanor prosecutors so the cases can proceed.

Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said workers are prioritizing backlogged cases based on the seriousness of the charge and how long the case has languished. Through those efforts, they are processing about 200 older cases a month.

"We couldn't have gotten where we are at if it wasn't for the cooperation and collaboration between the county and the DA's office and APD," Gay said. "This has been a priority for all of our agencies to look at this."

Officials have addressed the issues in several ways, including the addition of new workers to process video evidence. On Tuesday, Travis County commissioners voted to hire four temporary employees to help ease the workload.

The American-Statesman reported in May that criminal justice officials were concerned about a delay of up to 10 months to process video evidence and transfer it from police to prosecutors, which created a backlog of thousands of cases and potentially delayed justice.

It came at a time when the county had upgraded its technology to make sharing of information in criminal cases easier.

But officials said that the backlog was a result of the increased volume in video evidence as more officers were outfitted with body-worn cameras. Yet no new employees were hired to address the increase.

Workers also were using a slower internet connection to transfer the evidence, which was previously uploaded onto DVDs for prosecutors to pick up.

Gay said five full-time Austin police positions are still assigned to the effort, but that the department also has assigned officers on injury leave or light duty to help. Officials also are proposing two positions in its budget request for next year that would be assigned to help process video evidence.

He said he hopes that the department can have all backlogged videos transmitted in the next seven months.

Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox said officials have been working closely with information technology experts for months to figure out how to transfer the evidence more quickly.

"We've got some serious, smart IT people putting their heads to this and I think they are going to get us a solution," Cox said.

©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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