Sheriff: BCSO will comply with video release policy after approval bundle deal of body cam upgrades, new Tasers

Sheriff Javier Salazar had said his office needed automated redaction capabilities to meet the 10-day turnaround mandated by commissioners

SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar says his office will soon be complying with a county policy to release video of critical incidents -- such as when a deputy shoots a suspect -- within 10 days.

Salazar had previously pushed against the time frame, which commissioners approved in December. The sheriff said the policy was pushed “capriciously and out of malice” by former Precinct 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry, with whom he often butted heads.

But with commissioners poised Tuesday to approve a bundle deal including upgraded body camera technology, he promised to implement the 10-day policy.

“I am committed to that. So -- and we’re going to try to get there as quickly as possible,” Salazar told commissioners.

Commissioners subsequently voted 4-1 to amend a contract with the county’s body camera provider, Axon, to get upgraded capabilities for its cameras and 550 new Tasers. BCSO says the majority of the weapons have reached their end of life and need to be replaced.

The county is currently in the third year of a five-year, $6.4 million contract with Axon. The amended contract would add an extra two years and cost an additional $3.1 million, though BCSO officials said they would have had to pay to upgrade the Tasers separately anyways.

“With that $2.5 million now that was going to be expended to upgrade our Tasers -- to update our Tasers -- we’re getting all this other technology and equipment and capabilities, you know, lumped in as part of this package,” Salazar said, quoting a figure from an Axon representative on the cost of replacing the Tasers “a la carte.”

Those other capabilities, he told reporters, include automated redaction software that will make it easier to blur faces and license plates in the videos that need to be released under the county policy. Currently, he told reporters, BCSO has to perform redactions manually for each body camera.

“So let’s say, for argument’s sake, a person’s face appeared in each of those five (body cameras),” Salazar said. “I had to manually redact that face five times, and it wasn’t minute by minute. For every minute footage, it would take me two-and-a-half to three minutes, per minute, per deputy to redact that,” Salazar told commissioners.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert was the lone vote against amending the Axon contract. Though his arguments during the meeting mostly pertained to the contract process, he also wrote a letter on Feb. 4 claiming BCSO already had the tools to meet the 10-day timeline for releasing videos.

Salazar says that’s incorrect.

“We had not. Now we’re going to have it, and we’re excited at the possibilities,” the sheriff said after the meeting. “We’re excited at the new technologies that we’ve got at our fingertips now. It’s just a matter of getting the right folks hired and getting them trained up on how to effectively do this.”

Salazar had initially proposed 120 days for implementation and training before BCSO would follow the 10-day turnaround policy. At the urging of Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebecca Clay Flores, he agreed to a 60-day ramp-up period instead.

The sheriff said after the meeting that the 60-day period would begin once BCSO was able to hire two employees who would handle the video redactions.

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.