Closeup of a police body camera. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Law enforcement units across the country – including the San Antonio Police Department – have begun investing in body camera technology in an effort to hold police officers and suspects accountable, in response to the increased number of police brutality accusations and shootings recorded by civilians. City officials hope to see increased transparency and improved relations between SAPD officers  and citizens as the body cameras are deployed to patrol units throughout the city.

Recent tragedies like the death of 23 year-old Marquise Jones, a local man who was shot outside a Chacho’s fast food drive thru, have stirred up strong emotions and public outcry, but without actual evidence, no one is able to prove what really happened.

Protestor Ivory Rice holds up a sign that reads "I Am Marquise Jones". Photo by Scott Ball.
Protestor Ivory Rice holds up a sign that reads “I Am Marquise Jones” during a protest outside of the New Light Baptist Church in February. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“The cameras are shown to impact behavior on both sides of the camera, so I think we’re going to see that,” said City Manager Erik Walsh, adding that the camera would likely encourage better interactions between both sides, during a phone interview on March 18.

The Bike Patrol became the first SAPD unit to be equipped with the cameras in February, and cameras will be deployed to the Park Police sometime this month or in April, with new cameras arriving every few weeks to different police units throughout the city.

As of publication, there are 69 officers on Bike Patrol who have already been trained and are using the cameras, while 18 officers from other various units are trainers and have the cameras in use.

All officers are required a minimum of four hours of basic training to review how to properly operate the cameras; trainers who can instruct individual officers or classes must complete 40 hours of training.

“In our continuing reform efforts, we have begun our implementation process for the body worn cameras,” Chief William McManus said in a statement released last Thursday. “This will ensure transparency and continue to build on trust and legitimacy with the public. We look forward to having the department fully outfitted with body cameras within the next year and a half.”

Though the operational realities may affect the implementation dates, the body cameras are expected to reach all SAPD officers and command staff by June 2017.

The body cameras have been well received by officers, said Public Information Officer Sgt. Jesse Salame, adding that the SAPD officials “have been very quick to use them.”

The equipment is expected to last well into the day: each video camera has a rechargeable 12-hour battery with 64GB of memory, and holds up to 28 hours of video. The footage will be stored on a cloud based system at Evidence.com, but the department hired six new audio/visual technicians and one senior management analyst to review and protect the footage.

Though police departments across the country are struggling to keep up with the amount of labor and data storage that the body cameras require, San Antonio seems well prepared, said Walsh, adding that the costs of the body cameras should be covered by the City’s five-year $16.6 million contract with TASER.

Officer Gomez of the SAPD is outfitted with a body cam. Photo by Scott Ball.
Officer Gomez of the SAPD is outfitted with a body cam. Photo by Scott Ball.

The contract covers everything from hardware, storage, and camera maintenance to equipment repair. The majority of those services will be paid by the City budget, but a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice will help offset some of the cost.

Officers are required to turn on the cameras whenever they speak to a member of the public or when they respond to a call for help. But camera technology is rapidly advancing, Walsh said. The previous body cameras required officers to manually turn on the camera each time they arrived on scene. The new body cameras, which are being deployed to officers, will include new technology that is triggered by the patrol cars. When the officer opens the car door, the camera will turn on automatically.

Chief McManus has previously said that there will be consequences for individual officers who do not use the camera correctly, or turn the camera off while on the scene, but those consequences have not been identified just yet.

Events happen quickly and situations can suddenly take a turn, but the training should address those issues, Salame said.

“Everybody received the same training to ensure that they’re in accordance with policy,” he said. “There’s always a possibility that something could happen. There’s a million different reasons why they’re unable to turn on, but we do the best we can.”

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

*Top Image: Closeup of a police body camera. Photo by Scott Ball.

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson, a former reporter at the Rivard Report, is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events.