SAPD bike patrol officers roll out new body cameras

Chief calls cameras 'best thing that's happened since sliced bread'

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Police Department bike patrol unit started sporting new body cameras on Wednesday.

Each camera along with 12 months of storage costs about $1,500, and the five-year program is estimated to cost $16.7 million. SAPD hopes the cameras will create more trust between officers and the community.

The 66 officers with the bike patrol unit were the first to be trained on the gadgets because they didn't have any recording devices available.

"(They) handle it technically with the upload, the download, with all that," Chief William McManus said. "So they’ve done a good job. Everybody is ready. We are ready for it.”

Police officers equipped with body cameras are required to turn them on during the entirety of every incident or encounter with a citizen, including prison and witness transports. According to department policy, the only time the officer can stop or mute the recording is during an interaction with an undercover or confidential informant, a bathroom or personal break, conversations involving police strategy and personal emergencies.

If an officer doesn't turn on the camera, McManus said there will be consequences. McManus didn't specify what the consequences are but he said they would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Depending on the situation or offense, the video will be stored anywhere from 180 days for a traffic violation up to 50 years for a capital or first-degree felony. McManus said the cameras are important because they provide an unbiased account of a situation, which not only holds officers accountable but it also reduces the likelihood of unsubstantiated complaints against them.

"Our formal and informal complaints are down double digits this year over the same time last year," McManus said. "It’s a little early in the year, but I think we’re off to a very, very good start."

McManus hopes that trend will continue.

McManus said he also plans to wear a body camera.

"In my opinion this is the best thing that’s happened since sliced bread for policing," he said.

SAPD hopes to have every officer trained and equipped with body cameras within the next two years. Park police are next to undergo training.

To view the body cam procedure manual issued to SAPD officers, click here.