Due to the wake of publicized police shootings and individuals dying in custody, law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are now equipping their officers with police body cameras. Texas Occupations Code § 1701.655 sets forth requirements for body worn camera policies for police departments implementing a body worn camera program.
The policy must include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Guidelines determining when a police officer should activate a camera or discontinue a recording based on privacy under specific circumstances.
- Data-retention provisions, such as provisions mandating the retention of video for a minimum 90-day period.
- Provisions regarding storage of video and audio, the creation of backup copies, and data security maintenance.
- Guidelines for public access via open records requests.
Similar to video recordings taken from cameras mounted on a police cruiser’s dashboard, footage from body-worn cameras offers an objective look at interactions between officers and ordinary citizens. Although such footage may clarity an officer’s account of the alleged criminal offense, it is commonly now being used by criminal defense attorneys to protect the rights of their clients.
The following are the benefits of policy body camera footage:
- Having video footage of every police encounter makes an officer accountable for every action, which protects citizens against excessive use of force. Since police reports will be verified through video footage, law enforcement officials must adhere to strict protocol.
- Police body camera footage may help provide valuable evidence in obtaining accurate law enforcement, witness, and victim statements. Sometimes such testimony doesn’t always appear on camera, especially during high-stress situations.
- Such footage may help speed up court proceedings by providing indisputable proof of situations, resulting in the reduction of court expenses due to an increase in pre-trial bargains or early case dismissals.
Body camera footage can be an extremely valuable tool in preparing a criminal defense. It is not uncommon for a police officer’s recollection of a stop—or even a report he wrote hours after—to substantially differ from the body camera footage. Additionally, such footage allows the judge and/or jury to observe the aggressive and combative attitudes and behaviors that law enforcement officers first hand.