San Antonio, Texas, is poised to become one of the largest police departments in the nation using body cameras, or ‘body cams’ as they are now being called. Body cams are video recorders that are worn on the officers’ uniform and records every minute of every shift.
In the recent death shooting death of a driver at the hands of a University of Cincinnati Police officer, the video (shown below) offers a complete image of most everything seen by an officer during his shift. Without this image reporting the truth, things could have been reported much differently.
City Councilman Rey Saldaña thinks they will become as important as firearms and handcuffs, and are ‘the future of policing,” according to a San Antonio Express-News article. Saldaña is proposing in the 2016 city budget, around three million dollars for the purchase and operation of 1,500 camera units for police in the Alamo City. “All eyes will be on San Antonio,” he told the Express-News.” It will change things overnight for our officers and our community…All eyes will be on San Antonio.”
But that may not be what the Police Union wants. Local Police Union President Mike Helle, in the middle of what are described as “bitter” negotiations for a new contract, says that people’s expectations need to be tempered with some reality.
“I think the city needs to be a little cautious with the technology,” he said. “It’s like an iceberg — there’s a lot of hidden costs that go with it.” He told the Express-News. He added that as long as the cost isn’t taken “off the backs of the police officers”, he’s OK with the entire body cam program. Helle’s concern is not just the initial outlay for the cameras, but for the on-going equipment maintenance and storage of the video files.
“The body cam simply records what it sees,” a law enforcement instructor in South Texas who works with training new police officers said to Breitbart Texas. “That is a good thing and a bad thing. Because of placement, it may not always be pointed in the direction of what is needed to be seen. Sometimes the image will help police, sometimes it will help the suspect, and sometimes it will be no help at all.” He said dash mounted camera’s often don’t capture incidents as they are simply pointed where the car is pointed.
Another supporter of the program is San Antonio’s U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro, (D-TX). He led a bipartisan effort to add an amendment to a bill that successfully earmarked $25 million for body camera grants. The City has already applied for one of those grants, and has the backing of the area’s congressional delegation.
“Rey’s been a strong leader in building the relationship between police and our community, and this is another example of that leadership,” Castro said referring to Councilman Saldaña’s initiative.
Castro said the cameras would “improve the behavior all around — among police officers and among community members. Over the last few years, through video technology, we’ve seen instances of police heroism and police barbarism, but we have a responsibility to seek the truth about these encounters.”
While Castro noted that many law enforcement officers support body cam deployment, Saldaña said he’s spoken with officers here who have bought their own cameras as added protection against frivolous complaints.
Councilman Saldaña notes the price tag says the program could potentially save the city from a future costly legal action.
Saldaña cites a lawsuit involving former Officer Jackie Neal, who was recently slapped with a $2.1 million judgment in a civil lawsuit brought by a woman he allegedly sexually assaulted in the back of a police cruiser. The victim had sued then-Police Chief William McManus over the incident, and the city settled the case for $500,000.
There have been other cases involving civil rights and sexual assault, Saldaña told the Express-News, that have included costly settlements. The video from the body cam can prove innocence or sustain a complaint.
Another issue raised regarding the purchasing process is influential pressure being applied to police chiefs around the country to make these high-dollar purchases, according to a News4SanAntonio report. Former Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead was attempting to buy four hundred body cams from Taser, a bidder on the contract. The company promised a discount if business could be done before the end of the company’s sales quarter.
While he claimed, “I do not wear a cape or have x-ray vision you know,” in a message to Taser, he managed to get a no-bid $2.7 million contract pushed through. He told company representatives he deserved a raise, the TV station reported.
He is now under contract with Taser to speak a police events around the country. Taser spent nearly $2,500 on a four-day trip to Boston. As for the Alamo City, Halstead told a Taser representative “he believed he could persuade San Antonio to buy its cameras, ‘but my fee is not cheap! LOL.'”
The budget including the proposed body cam program will be presented to the San Antonio City Council this week. It will be decided on in September. If passed,it will take effect as of October 1st.
Milford is a news contributor to Breitbart Texas. You can follow him on Facebook