As public officials across the country seek to make their law enforcement agencies more transparent, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg requested a “complete review” of the police department’s body worn camera policies in a memo released Wednesday.
Police departments in some major cities across Texas have begun to release body-worn camera footage, sometimes within days of the shooting taking place.
In San Antonio, however, the police department typically does not release body camera footage even after the investigation is concluded, which is allowed under state law. Officials had said as recently as last month that the department did not have a video policy specifically for shootings by its officers.
“As various cities in the nation continue to revise their public safety-related policies and protocol to reflect their respective communities' call for effective oversight, San Antonio continues to pursue all opportunities to improve our public safety procedures,” Nirenberg wrote in the memo, which was sent to city council.
Nirenberg then called for the review, saying it is part of the council’s “efforts to improve transparency, accountability and public accessibility.”
The memo comes a day after San Antonio police fatally shot Darrell Wayne Zemault Sr., who was outside his home when police attempted to arrest him on family violence charges.
The release of police footage, body-worn camera and dashboard camera, can be crucial in determining whether officers acted appropriately in the incident.
For example, SAPD dash cam footage recently obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders contradicted the department’s long-held narrative that Hannah Westall was shot and killed by an SAPD sergeant in early 2019 after she had pointed a weapon at him.
An assistant city attorney previously tried to deny the release of the footage, citing a previous ruling from the state attorney general allowed them to withhold it because the case did not result in a conviction or deferred adjudication. Only after the Defenders pointed out that the dash-camera footage was already released to the family did the assistant city attorney release the footage to KSAT.
After the Defenders report, San Antonio police amended the in-custody death report, more than a year after Westall’s death.
In January, after an SAPD officer and federal law enforcement agent shot and killed Randy Goodale while he sat in a truck outside a home in the 4400 block of Stetson View, Police Chief William McManus said the officers opened fire after Goodale “started ramming into occupied police vehicles.”
Home surveillance video obtained by the Defenders, however, shows that Goodale’s vehicle didn’t move until after he was fired upon.
SAPD rules require officers to activate their body-worn cameras while conducting official police activity and failing to do so is a policy violation, unless the officer can provide reasonable justification that it was unsafe, unrealistic or impractical to do so.
Watch: Nirenberg talks about the need to change policies surrounding the releasing of police body camera footage in the latest KSAT Q&A
“I look forward to the ensuing discussions and working with each of you to realize our mutual goals to benefit the City of San Antonio and its residents,” Nirenberg wrote in the memo.
District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez issued his own statement after the memo’s release:
“I have yet to view the videos. I won’t be making any specific comments about it until I meet with the Police Chief and the City Attorney’s Office. But, I take these incidents very seriously and will monitor the internal affairs and grand jury process carefully.”
District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda also issued a statement after the memo’s release:
“Today the Mayor requested a complete review of our police department body-worn camera policies by the full City Council. As Chairwoman of our Public Safety Committee, the councilwoman for District 6, and a citizen of this community, I welcome the opportunity for an in-depth examination of body camera policies which can be used as a resource for assessment, training, and verification of street-level policing and community behavior.”
Read the full memo below: