Dallas Officers Who Turn Off Body Cams Could Be Fired

Chief David Brown compared turning off a body camera to turning off a dash cam video in a squad car — and neither is acceptable.

by Tristan Hallman, The Dallas Morning News / May 27, 2015
Dallas Police Department Facebook/Dallas Police Department

(TNS) -- Dallas police who inappropriately turn off their new body cameras could face “very severe” discipline, Chief David Brown said Tuesday.

Brown told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee there are some life-or-death situations and other instances in which it is not practical for officers to turn on their body cameras.

But officers with more devious or disobedient intentions could be suspended or fired for turning off their cameras while doing police work, he said.

“The whole range of discipline is on the table,” Brown said.

He compared turning off a body camera to turning off a dash cam video in a squad car — and neither is acceptable.

The chief’s statements came as the department announced plans to dole out 1,000 body cameras over the next five years. The cameras, which have broad support nationally and locally but have drawbacks, would cover about one-third of the 3,500-officer department, and will be issued to officers in patrol.

Council members on the committee expressed support Tuesday for the agenda item, with Scott Griggs calling it “a great program.”

The council is expected to approve a $3.7 million contract Wednesday with Taser International to provide the cameras and video storage and management software. The city bought 2,250 stun guns from the company last year.

About $1 million of the cost will come from federal grant money. The rest will come from the city’s coffers.

Buying from Taser also means that pulling a stun gun will automatically turn on all officers’ body cameras within 30 feet of the Taser.

Brown said Taser is also testing technology that will flip on the body cameras whenever an officer leaves his or her squad car.

Officers will be expected to manually turn on their cameras when they are “within the scope of an official law enforcement” activity, such as during a traffic stop. They will have their cameras off during other situations, such as detail at the patrol station.

The officers with cameras will also be asked to turn them on when working off-duty security jobs while in uniform.

“We are liable for their conduct when they wear our uniform in an off-duty capacity,” Brown said.

He said officers are receptive to the body cameras. The department field-tested several dozen cameras last year, but had to work out policies governing open records and video storage.

Community and civil rights groups across the country have called for the technology since late last year to keep police accountable after several incidents where officers had deadly encounters with unarmed men.

Police associations in Dallas have also backed body cameras and helped push a statewide bill. Officials believe the video could help exonerate officers of baseless complaints.

But Assistant Chief Tom Lawrence cautioned council members that video does not show the whole picture because human eyes can perceive things differently and have a greater line of vision than cameras.

“Generally, the eye can probably see about twice as well as a camera can,” Lawrence said.

He also said the cameras cannot see well in the dark, but videos can be brightened. He said cameras are helpful, but are just another tool to help understand what happened.

“There are some people who may believe it can be a panacea,” Lawrence said. “It is not.”

©2015 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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