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Body cameras keep Austin police on cutting edge

Posted by Brian Tillman on 12 January 2011

Austin Police Chief Acevedo announced yesterday that the downtown foot and bike patrol officers would be trying out some cutting-edge gear, police body cameras. As reported by KXAN, the cameras will be worn on the officer’s body, with a small camera attached to the officer’s head area.  The cameras will be on continuously, but will only record if the officer pushes a button- and will also record the previous 30 seconds.  The police cams are considered to be cutting-edge, and the future of police technology.  “We are entering into the ‘Robocop’ era of policing,” stated Chief Acevedo.

Well, for once I think both sides may be able to finally agree.  From a police perspective, the cameras protect them from frivolous lawsuits over unfair treatment, profiling, or police brutality.  The person who was roughed up on Dirty Sixth by a cop may have a different story when he sees himself on video.  Much like the dashboard cameras used in police cruisers (and regularly used to record DWI stops) the cameras show exactly what happened.  The video cuts through the BS and resolve many cases immediately once reviewed.  Law enforcement from other areas of the country have supported the body cameras for their effectiveness in reducing costs on everything from excessive force lawsuits to officer time in hearings and trials over contested factual scenarios.  Plus the body cameras run about $2000 apiece as compared to about $6000 for the dash cams.

From a defense lawyer perspective, I like it.  I used to practice in a state where DWI videos were rarely available.  It made challenging the officer’s testimony very difficult, because there was no reason to question it.  When I moved home to practice in Austin, I found to my surprise that nearly every DWI stop is recorded on video.  Suddenly it didn’t matter what the officer wrote in his report, because I had the video of what actually happened.  Now, when an officer’s report describes how a client had such terrible performance on the field sobriety tests, I can simply show the video to jurors and let them decide based on what they know.

I get an awful lot of cases that start with intoxication on Sixth Street and end up with someone getting bounced off the sidewalk by downtown police on foot, bikes and horses.  I get the distinct impression that maybe the downtown cops have a slightly shorter fuse than the average patrol officer, because they have to deal with such a volume of drunken idiots.  It’s not ok for the cops to rough up people just because they’re drunk, but it’s also not ok to ask for it by being an obnoxious moron, if you know what I’m saying.  Hopefully with the body cameras, a lot of the fuzzy area in these cases can be brought to light.

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