What happens to video captured by police body cameras?

Buying cameras may be easy, but coming up with policy is difficult

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - From the routine to the potentially dangerous; how police interact with the public is under increasing scrutiny. This is why Houston police, the Harris County Sheriff's Office and Precinct 1 Constable's Office are in the midst of running pilot programs for the use of body cameras.

"I just believe it increases, openness and transparency," said Houston police chief Charles McClelland.

Channel 2 Investigates has learned buying the cameras is easy, developing a policy on how the cameras are used and the video maintained is more difficult.

"People are demanding transparency in our criminal justice system," said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson. "What I hope is they're going to bring is transparency that is needed."

HPD has been running a pilot program regarding body cameras for more than a year. 100 officers are currently wearing a body camera. The department has yet to finalize a policy on the use of these cameras and the retention of video.

As it stands now, each officer is responsible for turning on the camera and recording an incident and then downloading the video and the end of every shift. Each camera records up to four hours of video.

HPD officers wearing these cameras are also required to check a series of categories indicating what type of incidents they recorded during a shift. HPD officials said "use of force" incidents are flagged in the system and the video is immediately reviewed.

HPD is not deleting any video at this point. HPD also has not given a specific time frame as to when these cameras will be implemented depart wide.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia put 38 body cameras on the streets and is still crafting policy. Garcia has said he wants a full implementation within 90 days. Garcia's is also experimenting with different types of cameras that can be mounted on the head, chest or shoulder.

Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen began a pilot program 5 months ago with three cameras. Rosen says the cameras are deployed during all tactical assignments and when high risk warrants are served.

Rosen's office is also experimenting with different types of cameras and whether an officer will be responsible for turning on the cameras or a having system where the cameras are turned on automatically during a call. The Precinct 1 Constable's is saving all video for 90 days unless part of a complaint or criminal case.
"I think it's also going to help the public understand what we go through on a daily basis, the split second decisions law enforcement has to make," said Rosen. "The public has to have confidence in its police."

Needville police chief Michael Dickerson has been using body cameras for more than a year. Dickerson said his department bought 6 cameras for $4,000.

"Everybody wants to see what the officer sees," said Dickerson.

The cameras used in Needvile are chest mounted and record 8 hours of video. Officers are required to download the video at the end of every shift, which is kept for 30 days unless part of a complaint or investigation.

All those who spoke with Channel 2 said they hope these cameras will help dispel doubts about whether officers act with an appropriate level of force during violent and deadly confrontations. Anderson noted that since grand jury investigations are secret, body cameras can help debunk rumors and show the public what happened during one of these incidents.

"I think it's going to clarify a lot of situations that would have otherwise had no clarity," said Anderson.

Anderson cited the recent protests over a grand jury's decision not to indict a Houston police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed man who charged him. The officer was working an off-duty security job at the time.

Anderson noted HPD will also require officers to wear a body camera when working off-duty security jobs.

The DA's Office recently donated a combined $1.9 million to HPD and the Sheriff's Office to buy these cameras. Harris County Commissioners have asked the county budget to put together a proposal on how much it would cost to equip all deputy constables with body cameras.

Copyright 2015 by Click2Houston.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.