SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar called a press conference Monday afternoon to announce changes to BCSO’s policy on body-worn cameras.
These policy changes would allow for a 30-day timeline to release body cam footage, Sheriff Salazar said. Currently, BCSO has no set timeframe on when they release body cam footage.
The policy changes are expected to be discussed at the Bexar County Commissioner’s Court on Tuesday.
Salazar addressed the policy changes and the need for new technology in a letter penned to the commissioners.
In the letter, Salazar said in order to release footage within the proposed time frame and remain within the law, they need upgraded body camera technology.
The sheriff said the current body cameras lack the ability to redact privacy interests as required by state statutes. These protected privacy interests include juveniles, persons in private spaces, personal identifying information, etc.
The sheriff said, with the current technology, all body camera footage must be manually redacted, which can take “eight to ten hours of redaction time per every single event.”
Upgraded technology would include automatic redaction abilities, therefore, allowing the department to accelerate the process and release the footage within the 30-day timeline, Salazar said.
In addition to the body-worn camera technology, Salazar said the department needs additional employee positions to release body camera footage within the timeframe.
In 2019, a body-worn camera federal grant was awarded to the department. This grant allowed for two new video librarian positions, which was approved by the Bexar County Grant Review Committee, Salazar said. These employees would be responsible for reviewing and redacting body camera footage.
However, Salazar said these positions were not recommended during the budgeting process.
Another concern Salazar addressed was the department’s Taser technologies, stating they have reached their “end of deployment lifespan.”
The sheriff said the manufacturers are willing to bundle the Taser and bodycam technologies for a discounted price. However, the discount is only good until Dec. 31.
The cost of the bundled technologies is $9,441,514.77, giving the department a $4,765,313.83 discount, according to the sheriff’s office.
This bundle would include 550 tasers and body-worn cameras. Of the 550 cameras, 519 would go to BCSO, and 31 would be reserved for the Fire Marshal’s Office.
If the sheriff’s office passes up on the offer, it will cost $14,206,828.60 for the technology, officials said.
In response to Salazar’s press conference, Precinct 3 Commissioner Trish Deberry’s office issued the following statement:
“Commissioner DeBerry asked for Body Cam Policy to be placed on the Court’s agenda. We are the only major County without a Body cam release policy. Commissioner DeBerry has led County staff to create a clearly defined policy to promote total transparency. The Court has asked for a policy on releasing body cam footage having addressed multiple lawsuits regarding the withholding of critical incident videos.”
DeBerry said the Court should not consider the Sheriff’s request until he has a finalized policy.
“Commissioner DeBerry is glad that the courts action will result in the Bexar County Sheriff finally having a policy. The Commissioner’s Court shouldn’t consider Sheriff Salazar’s $10 million request for cameras and tasers without a finalized policy.”
In the wake of recent law enforcement shootings, many people have called on law enforcement agencies to be more forthcoming with releasing footage from body-worn cameras.
Many police departments across the state of Texas have created policies for releasing footage of violent encounters.
A year ago this month, the San Antonio Police Department released its policy declaring that videos and recordings must be released within 60 days after an incident, with few exceptions. But several of this year’s police-involved shootings have fallen under those exceptions, according to SAPD Chief William McManus.
According to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, law enforcement agencies implementing a body-worn camera program must include the following in their policies:
- Guidelines for when a peace officer should activate a camera or discontinue a recording currently in progress, considering the need for privacy in certain situations and at certain locations.
- Provisions relating to data retention, including a provision requiring the retention of video for a minimum period of 90 days.
- Provisions relating to storage of video and audio, creation of backup copies of the video and audio, and maintenance of data security.
- Guidelines for public access, through open records requests, to recordings that are public information.
- Provisions entitling an officer to access any recording of an incident involving the officer before the officer are required to make a statement about the incident.
- Procedures for supervisory or internal review.
- The handling and documenting of equipment and malfunctions of equipment.
- A policy may not require a peace officer to keep a body-worn camera activated for the entire period of the officer’s shift.
- A policy adopted under this section must be consistent with the Federal Rules of Evidence and Texas Rules of Evidence.
- A policy must ensure that a body-worn camera is activated only for a law enforcement purpose.
Watch Sheriff Salazar’s press conference: