Crimewatch: Body camera bill could help police departments purchase the equipment

A Houston senator has introduced a bill that would allow police departments to apply for grant funding for the purchase of body cameras. It would also create statewide policy and guidelines on the usage of the cameras.

Very soon every Cedar Park patrol officer will wear a body camera on their uniform.

The department purchased the cameras for motorcycle officers, school resource officers and animal control officers last year. By September, there will be nearly 70 body cameras in use.

"We're able to review their videos and it shows transparency in our government so that if our citizens would file a complaint then we're able to review those videos because all of the officers are equipped with those videos," said Commander Darlene Lewis, Cedar Park Police Department.

The purchase is much easier for smaller agencies, but with a cost estimate of around $1,000 per officer per year, larger departments like Austin lag behind.

It's not the cameras themselves that are so expensive, it's the cloud-based storage for keeping the footage for a certain amount of time.

Still, we've seen the benefits locally. In 2010, an officer's camera that he purchased on his own dime recorded a murder suspect firing at officers.

To help departments obtain such crucial evidences, Senator Royce West has introduced a bill that would allow departments to apply for grant funding.

West talked about the benefits the Rialto, California police department saw since implementing a camera system in a committee meeting at the Capitol last month.

"A very significant decrease in complaints filed against officers and a significant decrease in the use of deadly force," said West. "We should be able to accomplish that in Texas. Should become one of the leaders in the country as it relates to the use and implementation a statewide policy as it relates to body cameras."

Senate Bill 158 would create statewide guidelines on the use of body cameras requiring departments to train officers and create policies for use.

APD officers testified in support of the bill. The department would like to purchase cameras for 1,000 officers.

Commander Ely Reyes oversees APD's technology unit.

"I think the more body cameras we can get out there the better off we'll be as police officers, the better we're going to serve the community and the more transparency and building trust and partnerships in the community," said Reyes.

Reyes is currently reviewing various models of cameras. He wants to invest in something that has an automatic trigger built in.

"If an officer is involved in an incident and they have a body camera and that camera is not turned on it's going to open up a lot of questions and it's going to do more harm in the community than it does good. We want to build that trust and that collaboration in our community," said Reyes.

Reyes says the department is waiting for funding to be identified in order to move forward with purchasing the cameras. State grant money may be exactly what the department needs.

In 2001, Senator Royce West introduced Senate Bill 1074. It provided $18.5 million in state funding to purchase dash cameras for patrol cars across Texas.