Police department policies vary when it comes to releasing body camera video

HOUSTON – Cities around the country including Austin, Atlanta and Oklahoma City, have released body camera videos of controversial police encounters in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody as there are more insistent calls for more transparency from law enforcement.

Body-worn cameras for all Houston police officers were introduced four years ago, but the public has rarely, if ever, been able to view any footage. But as pressure mounts from protesters, lawmakers and others, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said this about his department’s policy.

“If anyone wants to see a video they need to contact the police department,” Acevedo said.

Houston’s policy

But it’s not that simple. Acevedo said at present, only family members would be able to review video, and only if they approved its release. In the past, Acevedo has said he won’t release the videos out of respect for the families involved and because it could impact a jury if an officer ever stands trial.

Lovie Williams Linzer is one family member who asked to see the body cam video of her nephew’s death. Davion Edison, 18, was shot and killed by Houston officers in December after they say he fired at them during a chase.

“I want to see it myself,” Linzer said. “And I want it released to everyone.”

Earlier this week, HPD told her she could come in to see the video but later postponed her appointment.

“We want the video released,” Linzer said. “We want to see the video and we won’t stop.”

Differing video release policies

In 2015, Texas adopted body camera guidelines for all law enforcement in the state, but they left the decision on whether to release the videos to each individual department. While some agencies have been releasing videos upon request from the public, in 2017, Texas’ largest cities received failing grades when it came to body cam transparency.

Kathy Mitchell, the policy coordinator for the non-profit criminal justice reform group Just Liberty, said those guidelines are due for an update.

“It’s time to revisit the transparency issue,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell was with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition when it proposed improvements to the guidelines and believes the flaws will be addressed in next year’s legislative session.

“I will guarantee there will be a body camera reform bill that is about transparency," she said.

Until then, Lovie Williams Linzer will continue to push for that transparency and fight to see her nephew’s video.

“Show us that we can trust you,” Linzer said. “Change this."

UPDATE (June 11th): A day after our story aired, we received the following statement from HPD -

“Following the incident involving Mr. Davion Edison on December 30, 2019, Houston police department investigators made contact with his father, who later ceased all communication with HPD. Last week, an additional family member reached out to investigators and arrangements were made for her to view the video today (June 11). Yesterday (June 10), we were made aware several homicide investigators had tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, for the health and safety of the family, we reached out to them and postponed the planned viewing. Executive Assistant Chief Troy Finner personally spoke with both the family and Quanell X, explained the situation, and promised to reschedule the meeting to a time of their choosing, likely in the next few days. HPD remains committed to working with the family representative in such incidents and to the issue of transparency regarding body worn cameras.”