AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The Austin Independent School District Police Department has been utilizing body-worn cameras in some capacity for the past 11 years. “We've been using body cameras since before body cameras were cool,” said Sgt. Travis Pickford.
But this school year, the department has a shipment of brand new, Axon body cams for every officer (About 89). “With this program it's allowing uniformity across all of our officers and everybody is going to get the same equipment,” Pickford said.
Sgt. Travis Pickford says the cameras will help with the situations district officers respond to. “From a fight, to a student that's just having a bad day and is a little out of control. All the way up to aggravated assault or sexual assault,” Pickford said.
He says the cameras are used for evidence-gathering and ensuring accountability. “It's natural for the human mind to remember things a little different. You go through a critical incident like that. The body cam allows our officers, allows the public to see what happened from the viewpoint of an unbiased eye,” Pickford said.
Sgt. Pickford says the cameras are always in standby mode. When an incident happens, officers turn it on and off with the click of a button.
Kathy Mitchell is with the criminal justice reform group “Just Liberty.” “We strongly support all police officers having body cameras. We support them keeping the cameras up to date,” Mitchell said.
But Mitchell says both Austin ISD and Austin Police need to work out strong rules for standard public release of video. “If that information is never released publicly then it doesn't help resolve the distrust that sometimes happens when an incident has been reported,” Mitchell said.
“You would have to file the open records request. We're -- I don't want to say a little different, but we have to be a little more cautious because most of what we capture on our body cams are juveniles,” Pickford said.
Sgt. Pickford says if a parent needs to see somebody camera footage, generally the district allows that to happen. “At a minimum, there should be a standard policy for releasing that video to the families of any kids that have been involved,” Mitchell said.
Sgt. Pickford says the new Axon software does give them the ability to blur faces and disguise voices. “Which is something we've never had before. So that's actually a program that's built in to the software that allows us to redact videos,” Pickford said.
“There is a privacy interest in the idea of having everything that a police officer does out in public recorded. That said, this can all be navigated now. Between technology and the right policy, we can strike the right balance,” Mitchell said.