- Associated Press - Friday, August 29, 2014

HOUSTON (AP) - The chief of the largest police force in Texas has moved to equip all of his officers with body cameras.

The Houston Chronicle reports (https://bit.ly/1tIZ5D7 ) that Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said Thursday he wants $8 million to equip 3,500 officers over a three-year period. He said the recorded encounters between law enforcement officers and residents will improve accountability and transparency.

Since the fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, of an unarmed 18-year-old, calls have increased for more police officers in general to wear such cameras.

McClelland had announced a pilot program last December that fitted 100 officers with the recording devices. That program is still underway and no results have been released.

The cameras are roughly the size of a pager and can be clipped to the front of a uniform shirt. The officers would have to manually turn on the devices, which can record for up to four hours.

Capt. Mike Skillern, who leads the department’s gang unit and is involved in testing the cameras, said they deliver excellent daytime video and audio but don’t work as well in low light. He said the pilot system has already been used to disprove complaints that officers were abusive during encounters.

“We as a department, and the individual officers, have all been very happy with them,” Skillern said. “It does adjust attitudes on both sides of the camera. When folks realize they’re being videoed, they’re often on their best behavior.”

Mayor Annise Parker said the cameras could be useful.

“I support expanding the pilot project, and we are attempting to identify an appropriate funding source,” Parker said.

The City Council approved a roughly $800 million police department budget this summer that didn’t include the cameras.

Houston Police Officers’ Union officials have expressed concerns that an officer could accidently or intentionally fail to activate a camera.

Amin Alehashem, director and staff attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project office in Houston, called the proposed camera expansion a “huge victory for transparency.”

“Often times a lot of what happens with interactions on the street between an officer and an individual ends up being a ‘he said, she said’ altercation,” Alehashem said.

“For the criminal process, it will allow juries in the future to see what happened and make up their mind as far as guilt or innocence of the individual or even the officer,” Alehashem added.


Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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