Houston Police Department’s body-worn camera policy explained; What is shown? What isn’t?

“The public should know the actions of the officers that serve them,” a retired HPD officer said.

HOUSTON – It was April 29, 2021, when the City of Houston announced a dramatic change aimed at greater transparency of officers at the Houston Police Department.

“We are changing the Houston Police Department’s policy on body-worn cameras,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

As HPD Chief Troy Finner detailed, the structure for release was simple. “Within 30 days, we are releasing all officer-involved shootings where there is an injury or a death, period,” Finner said.

Since the announcement at City Hall, the department has released 180 videos. The majority showed officer-involved shootings where lives are on the line and decisions are made in seconds.

“Everybody needs to see not only what our officers are going through but what other citizens are going through,” said Finner during a recent interview with KPRC 2 Investigates.

However, there is much more than the violent danger depicted in these criminal cases. A few show the rare sight of cops providing aid to a suspect who only seconds earlier attempted to kill them.

“The public should know the actions of the officers that serve them,” said retired HPD Sergeant Shelby Stewart.

The camera is powerful according to Stewart, “because it lets a police officer know that his actions are being covered.”

Stewart has been a past critic of the department for its lack of transparency but admits he embraced the change in policy. “I was happy about it because I felt that [it] would be leading to more transparency and accountability to the public,” said Stewart.

However, KPRC 2 Investigates uncovered not all videos of officer-involved shootings have been released to the public.

When asked about certain videos, Finner said the department is prohibited from releasing them. According to the Texas code, “We can’t by law. The citizen who has care, custody, and control of that residence, they have to agree to that.”

Attorney Mike Doyle, who represents the family of Rhogena Nicholas who was killed in HPD’s botched and deadly raid on Harding Street, is in favor of the videos.

He also has questions.

Some of the videos have large portions that are blurred or the sound is blocked.

“There is no real explanation for how a video is edited or not edited,” said Doyle. “What’s left in? What’s left out? There are just portions put up there. That‘s problematic. That’s troubling.”

Stewart believes easy access to view all the videos will ultimately lead to better policing.

“You’re going to be able to see mistakes that have been made, and if you are put in that situation, you have an opportunity to do something different.”

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