Texas Lawmakers: Police body camera bill could be national model

Texas passed what lawmakers are calling the most comprehensive police body camera program in the country, saying it could become a national model.

Senate Bill 158 was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday after clearing both chambers of the state legislature with little resistance. The bill establishes statewide policy on the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement agencies and also provides a more than $10 million grant program to help cash-strapped agencies purchase the equipment, said Kelvin Bass, legislative aide at the Texas Senate and key researcher for the bill.

Law enforcement agencies can also sign agreements with the state’s Department of Information Resources, which has has cloud space to store recorded video. That partnership coupled with the state’s existing data storage structure should drive down the cost of implementing a body-worn camera program, Bass told Guns.com

The state’s body camera program, taking effect Sept. 1, includes provisions that address privacy concerns raised as law enforcement agencies across the country are outfitting their officers with the wearable technology. Interactions between law enforcement and individuals on private property, where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists, could be exempt from open records requests unless a criminal offense has taken place there. Officers are also given a certain amount of flexibility in being able to turn their cameras off, but must verbally offer a good reason for doing so while the camera is still recording.

The bill also protects officers’ rights in that it allows them to review their video recordings before making a required statement, Bass said.     

The handful of law enforcement agencies in Texas that have implemented their own body camera policy must submit it to the state for review. If no conflicts are discovered, those agencies won’t have to change their existing policies.

“But I don’t think anyone’s going to be that far off,” Bass said.

He said that the bill was crafted after careful consideration and collaboration of a workgroup composed of law enforcement, labor organizations, city and county organizations, advocacy groups, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

“Through the dialogue that emerged, we were able to gain consensus on the proper approach to critical issues such as when a camera should be in operation, data management and retention, open records policy and cost,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, in a statement. “By the time the bill emerged from committee, it had earned the support of law enforcement agencies. I felt it was important for Texas to be at the forefront of this emerging issue related to police accountability and also to respond to issues raised by our communities nationwide.”