Senators hear testimony on police body cameras

AUSTIN  _ Legislation that would supply and train Texas police officers with body cameras remains “a work in progress” but it’s important to start debating the issue, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, told a state Senate committee Tuesday.

Confrontations involving police and citizens across the nation point to the potential usefulness of police body cameras, West said, adding the time “is ripe for public consideration.”

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony on his Senate Bill 158, which West said sets out guidelines for local police agencies to use in setting body camera policies. He noted that a committee substitute and upcoming amendments will make further changes to the bill.

Though numerous witnesses supported the concept of body cameras, among the concerns voiced by witnesses included privacy, public records access and cost.

Video from body cameras would have to be retained at least 90 days, similar to the rule for police dash cam video, West said. The cost of body cameras, he said, would be a shared responsibility between state and local governments.

The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas said it opposes the bill at this time because it doesn’t provide enough protections against voluminous open records requests and “gotcha” requests. Some law enforcement agencies said they remain neutral because of the cost of the cameras and of responding to open records requests, but said they are continuing to work with West.

Civil rights and transparency groups hold a variety of views based on assorted details of the evolving bill.

“It’s an important step in the right direction,” said Yannis Banks, testifying on behalf of the Texas NAACP.