Body cameras for Austin police put on hold

Almost a month after the city approved a contract to acquire body cameras from Taser International for Austin police officers; the City has hit another road block.

“Body cameras are important not just for Austin police officers, most of them, body cameras are important because it captures what happens in the capacity where people can see it from the actual officer's point of view and not just from someone’s phone,” said Fatima Mann, co-founder of the Austin Justice Coalition.

A Travis County district court judge has put an injunction on the contract until a hearing over a lawsuit filed by Taser competitor, Utility Associates, in August.

Utility's bid was $3 million less than the bid from Taser, but City Council voted in favor of Taser anyway. Utility is challenging that decision saying Taser did not comply with the City's request for proposals.

Those who have been asking for the department to begin using body cameras said in the meantime they hope officers find other ways to make their jobs more transparent.

“So being able to at least use what we have right now, and be able to put other things into place, so if we don't have body cameras, we at least have two officers where their camera on their car is placed in different ways so you can see from different angles in the same situation,” Mann said. 

Retired Austin police officer Jerry Staton said he's not surprised by the length of time it took to get the contract approved.

“Any major purchase by any police department is going to be typically about a year or longer process,” Staton said. 
He too is on board with officers wearing body cameras in the future.

“It’s important, because, for no other reason than the public perception is that's going to solve all of our problems with the mistrust that exists between the law enforcement and the community,” said Staton. 

Staton said the body cameras will provide another angle to show what happens during an arrest or an officer involved shooting, but he doesn't think the video will be as cut and dry as some might expect.

“Even now, with the video that we have available, depending on your bias and your upbringing and what your beliefs are and what you think the cops are, the good guys or not, two people can watch the exact same video and come to two different conclusions about whether the force they used was appropriate or not. That's not going to change,” said Staton.

The Austin Police Department said they cannot comment on the lawsuit at this time. During a City Council meeting in June, administrators with the department argued that it was important to move forward with the Taser contract because the public had been waiting so long for the cameras to be put in place.