SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio Police Department this month will join most other major law enforcement departments in Texas in releasing footage when its officers shoot people, according to records obtained Friday by the KSAT 12 Defenders.
In policy changes that will take effect for incidents that occur on or after Dec. 21, SAPD officials say they will now release portions of body-worn camera videos and 911 calls within 60 days of incidents in which officers shoot someone or use force that results in a person’s death, with some exceptions.
SAPD Chief William McManus updated city leadership on the changes Thursday in a written memo shared with the Defenders by a city official. McManus wrote that the policy was amended “with the goal of further enhancing transparency.”
The policy changes come two months after a Defenders investigation revealed that San Antonio was part of a shrinking group of large cities in Texas that does not release footage after its officers shoot someone.
McManus, in a memo sent to City Manager Erik Walsh and Deputy City Manager Maria Villagomez on Dec. 10, said videos related to domestic violence will not be released unless the chief believes they will serve a law enforcement purpose.
The memo also states that in addition to releasing videos and 911 calls, SAPD officials may release still photographs, witnesses’ recordings, narratives and other that will help describe the incident and place the recordings and audio in the appropriate context.
If McManus determines that video should not be released within 60 days, the policy calls for the public to be informed of the reasons why within 60 days of the incident.
The critical incident video release policy will not pertain to officers shooting animals, unintentional discharges during pre-shift equipment checks or during training qualifications on the firing range, the memo states.
Information pertaining to minors, including recordings, will not be released, McManus wrote.
He also wrote that he will have discretion to release only partial recordings in some instances
SAPD officials said McManus was not available for an interview about the policy changes Friday afternoon.
McManus instead released the following statement:
The changes come three months after Mayor Ron Nirenberg called for a complete review of the department’s body-worn camera policies.
“We have these very high-profile events. There’s a lot of conflicting accounts that really can only be settled once there is some viewing of video,” Nirenberg told the Defenders in September.
At the time, Nirenberg said his preference was to release footage soon after the shootings take place.
On Friday, Nirenberg applauded the change in a statement to KSAT.
“I asked for the body camera policy review because I believe it is in the community’s interest to make the footage public whenever it is reasonable,” Nirenberg said on Friday. “The chief will inform the public in writing within 60 days of an incident if a video will not be released. The public should know the protocol so they can have reasonable expectations about the release of footage, and the procedures should lean toward transparency. This policy does that.”
McManus’ memo states that the changes are updates to the department’s body-worn camera policy and not a standalone policy.