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SB 158 would start a body camera pilot program. Under this program law enforcement agencies would be able to apply for a grant to equip their officers. This bill would set reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies that receive a body worn camera grant to report to the Governor the costs of implementing the program. It would also set best practice guidelines for officers who are equipped with body-worn cameras and training procedures for officers provided body cameras. This bill would create a new Class A misdemeanor offense for officers or employees who release a recording without consent of the law enforcement agency. Finally, this bill would make the recordings subject to public information requests.
The House committee substitute version requires County Commissioners courts to approve of the body cameras, and for the grants sought to help defray costs. The House version also clarifies the criteria for public disclosure of data recorded by the body cameras. We remain neutral. The second chamber sponsors are Reps. Allen Fletcher and James White.
First chamber recommendation:
Currently, there are already Texas counties actively equipping some of their officers with body-worn cameras. Body-worn cameras operated by municipalities have encouraged personal responsibility of our officers and help to preserve evidence which benefits the cause of effective justice.
However, this bill does not promote the autonomy of local municipalities to establish their own laws and procedures for operating body-cameras and would allow the state to set one-size-fits-all proceedurs than reflecting the differing individual situations of each municipality. By discouraging local autonomy this bill counteracts negatively with our limited government principle. Furthermore, we have concerns about the funding mechanism for this program and the program costs overall which also bring limited government concerns of their own.
Due to conflicting principles, we remain neutral on SB 158.
We further note that we support the idea of body-worn cameras for law enforcement in principle. It is potentially a very good way to have an accurate record of a disputed event. It can strengthen evidence against a suspect, or provide exculpatory evidence to the wrongfully accused. It also encourages law enforcement officers to be on their best behavior and limits opportunities for abuse of power which may be rare as a percentage of total police interactions with citizens, but happen often enough that greater oversight is clearly needed. It also protects law enforcement officers by equipping them with evidence in the even that someone falsifies a claim of abuse at the hands of an officer.
For these reasons we support the overall aims of body-worn camera policies. We believe that a local approach that is funded by local governments is the most appropriate approach within the context of limited government.