coun­cil OK sought; record­ings wouldn’t need of­fi­cer ac­ti­va­tion

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Plo­het­ski

Af­ter con­tro­ver­sial po­lice shoot­ings with no video footage, Austin po­lice want to re­move the job of flip­ping on pa­trol car cam­eras from of­fi­cers — and give it to technology.

Next month, po­lice of­fi­cials will ask the City Coun­cil to ap­prove $15.5 mil­lion for dig­i­tal equip­ment they say will au­to­mat­i­cally start record­ing un­der sev­eral sce­nar­ios, in­clud­ing when of­fi­cers open their pa­trol car doors.

The amount in­cludes $5,300 for cam­eras and mi­cro­phones in each of the depart­ment’s 550 pa­trol cars and about $12 mil­lion to cre­ate a wire­less data­base to house the videos.

The money also in­cludes $3,800 for cam­eras on each of the depart­ment’s 60 pa­trol mo­tor­cy­cles, which have not had them.

“This is an in­vest­ment, not just in pro­tect­ing the of­fi­cers, but it is an in­vest­ment in pro­tect­ing the tax­pay­ers and build­ing trust with the com- mu­nity,” Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo said.

Austin po­lice, who had de­clined to dis­cuss de­tails of the pro­posal un­til Fri­day, said that with the coun­cil’s ap­proval, they will buy and in­stall a first round of cam­eras in Jan­uary. Po­lice said they will place the first cam­eras in pa­trol cars in East Austin, where con­tro­ver­sial shoot­ings in re­cent years have oc­curred.

Of­fi­cials hope to have cam­eras in each car city­wide by the spring of 2012.

The equip­ment will be paid for with bonds

that do not re­quire voter ap­proval and are paid off with tax dol­lars.

In June 2009 — about a month af­ter the fa­tal shoot­ing of Nathaniel San­ders II — po­lice of­fi­cials be­gan study­ing types of video technology other de­part­ments across the coun­try use.

Then-se­nior of­fi­cer Leonardo Quin­tana, who fa­tally shot San­ders, had not ac­ti­vated his cam­era and was sus­pended for 15 days for vi­o­lat­ing a de­part­men­tal pol­icy re­quir­ing of­fi­cers to record stops. He has since been fired af­ter a drunken driv­ing ar­rest.

It was the sec­ond fa­tal shoot­ing with no video ev­i­dence. In June 2005, of­fi­cer Julie Schroeder shot Daniel Rocha dur­ing an in­ci­dent in which she also had not ac­ti­vated her cam­era. Sgt. Don Doyle, who was on the scene, had not placed a tape in his cam­era.

The lack of footage in each shoot­ing an­gered many res­i­dents and raised ques­tions about how of­fi­cers had han­dled the en­coun­ters.

Po­lice of­fi­cials have said in re­cent months that they wanted to find technology that would lower the chances of of­fi­cer er­ror. They also said it was be­com­ing nec­es­sary to re­place the cur­rent sys­tem, which uses in­creas­ingly out­dated VHS tapes.

“We have old technology, and we are be­ing pushed in a di­rec­tion to­ward bet­ter technology,” said Cmdr. Troy Gay, who su­per­vised the project.

Of­fi­cials ap­pointed a team of of­fi­cers to re­view the type of dig­i­tal equip­ment avail­able, and they even­tu­ally set­tled on cam­eras made by Pana­sonic.

Of­fi­cers this year vis­ited po­lice agen­cies that use the same sys­tems in Louisville, Ky., and Mont­gomery County, Md.

The cur­rent sys­tem, which has been in place for about eight years, largely re­lies on of­fi­cers’ ac­tions to ac­ti­vate. The cam­eras start record­ing when of­fi­cers man­u­ally turn them on or when of­fi­cers ac­ti­vate over­head lights or sirens on their cars.

The new cam­eras would still

‘We must take some of the guess­work out of en­coun­ters be­tween law en­force­ment and the com­mu­nity.’

Sh­eryl Cole,

Austin City Coun­cil mem­ber

be ac­ti­vated when of­fi­cers flip their lights or siren on. How­ever, they also would start record­ing when of­fi­cers open their car doors, when cars top a cer­tain speed (of­fi­cials have not de­cided at what speed they want to pro­gram the cam­eras to ac­ti­vate) and when car sen­sors de­tect that the car has been in­volved in a crash.

Of­fi­cers will be able to turn the cam­eras on man­u­ally from in­side their cars or re­motely from a box clipped to their uni­forms.

Sgt. Wayne Vin­cent, pres­i­dent of the Austin po­lice union, said of­fi­cers sup­port the cam­era pur­chase.

“No of­fi­cer wants to make a mis­take and not have a cam­era on when it should be on, so this will help al­le­vi­ate a lot of that,” said Vin­cent, who noted that videos have cleared of­fi­cers of bo­gus al­le­ga­tions.

The cam­eras will col­lect footage from the moment the cam­era is ac­ti­vated — and 30 sec­onds be­fore that.

Po­lice of­fi­cials are still draft­ing a pol­icy for when of­fi­cers can man­u­ally turn their cam­eras off, such as when they leave their pa­trol cars for meal or bath­room breaks. Should they be­gin an un­ex­pected of­fi­cial en­counter while away from their cars, they would be re­quired to man­u­ally start the cam­eras.

At the end of shifts, videos — stored on a card that is locked in a pa­trol car vault and inac- ces­si­ble to of­fi­cers — would be down­loaded to a data­base. Videos will be kept for 45 days, un­less de­tec­tives pre­serve them longer as ev­i­dence in pend­ing crim­i­nal cases.

To re­view of­fi­cers’ ac­tions, su­per­vi­sors will be able to ac­cess videos on their com­put­ers in­stead of or­der­ing tapes from the depart­ment’s li­brary.

Of­fi­cials said the sys­tems would pro­vide bet­ter qual­ity au­dio and im­ages — color pic­tures in­stead of the cur­rent black-and-white.

“They are pretty much movie qual­ity,” Gay said. “They are clear and crisp — much clearer to hear the of­fi­cer and the per­son they are mak­ing con­tact with.”

Of­fi­cials also hope the technology will al­low su­per­vi­sors, from their of­fices, to watch live as of­fi­cers make stops or work crime or ac­ci­dent scenes. That would al­low them to de­ter­mine whether more of­fi­cers are needed, for in­stance.

Coun­cil Mem­ber Sh­eryl Cole said she plans to sup­port the pro­posal at the coun­cil’s Aug. 5 meet­ing.

“We must take some of the guess­work out of en­coun­ters be­tween law en­force­ment and the com­mu­nity,” she said. “This re­cent technology demon­strates our com­mit­ment to trans­parency, pub­lic safety and pub­lic trust.”

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