A police officer perched high above the crowd during NIOSA 2015 at La Villita. Photo by Scott Ball.
A police officer watches the crowd from high above during NIOSA 2015 at La Villita. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio, with help from a $1 million federal grant, will start outfitting its police officers and sergeants with 2,200 body cameras this year, starting with 251 cameras for park police and downtown bike and foot patrol units by late November.

By winter 2016, in about 20 months, “you won’t find any (officer) out on the street that doesn’t have a body camera,” San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus told City Council on Thursday morning. Full deployment may come even sooner once training courses are underway.

Council unanimously approved a contract with TASER International, Inc. for up to about $16.6 million for the cameras, data storage and management, and continued hardware/software upgrades should the company develop better camera technology. The contract is for five years and carries the option for renewal each year for three additional years prior.

As part of the fiscal year 2016 budget, eight administrative SAPD positions were created in anticipation of managing a surge of open records requests for the videos and the need to oversee storage. While all video will be sent to secure cloud storage provided by Evidence.com for 180 days, recordings from officers responding to more serious crimes will be stored even longer. Misdemeanors will be stored for two years and homicide, DWIs, and other felonies will be kept for 10 years.

“I think the body cam program will provide accountability both for the public and for the officers to have that added measure of protection,” Mayor Ivy Taylor said.

SAPD officers will be required by SAPD protocol to activate the cameras anytime they interact with the public or are drawn to an incident, McManus said. “Any kind of incident that involves a crime that an officer is called to, the camera is required to be on. … There are certain situations where it’s okay to turn it off.”

SAPD Chief William McManus speaks to reporters after the City Council approves a contract for 2,200 on Oct. 29, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
SAPD Chief William McManus speaks to reporters after the City Council voted to approve the body camera contract. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

When on general patrol, between calls, or during conversations with a supervisor or a confidential informant, for instance, will not be recorded, he said. Each camera holds about 3 gigabytes or about 2.5 hours of video.

“It tends to change behavior on both sides of the camera,” McManus said after the vote. “There’s no downside to it. …. It is a money issue but I think that there is a good balance between the need and the financial impact.”

Officers will complete a four-hour training course before they’re assigned a body camera. After park and bike/foot patrols, the cameras will then be rolled out at East, West, Central, South, Prue and North substations – in order according to level of use-of-force complaints.

San Antonio was one of five cities to receive a $1 million Department of Justice Grant for body camera deployment after SAPD launched a six-month pilot program in March 2014 with 150 cameras going to officers on downtown bicycle patrol and those operating from the Westside substation.

Initially, the City proposed spending $3 million in general funds, as part of the public safety budget, to purchase 1,534 body cameras, but the federal grant allowed for a more robust contract. The cameras will be gradually purchased and deployed among officers in phases over the next 20 months.

According to SAPD officials, the department is currently assisting Texas Commission On Law Enforcement in “developing the required statewide minimum standards for body camera policies required by law.”

*Top image: A police officer watches the crowd from high above during NIOSA 2015 at La Villita. Photo by Scott Ball.

Related Stories:

San Antonio Police to Wear Body Cameras

After a Fatal Shooting, Bexar County Approves More Body Cameras

Council Approves Funding for B-Cycle, Body Cameras, and More

Body Cameras Coming to Park Police, Bike Patrol

Panelists: Mutual Respect Key to Police, Community Bond

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...