Police officers in downtown Austin may soon be outfitted with body cameras pending purchasing approval from the Austin City Council, according to the Austin American Statesman. The successful completion of a pilot program that tested the equipment moves the Austin Police Department closer to its goal of providing 500 officers with lapel cameras.
Cops patrolling the Sixth Street bar district will be the first to receive the technology due to the area’s high frequency use-of-force incidents. The police department is expected to expand the program using $3 million approved by city council in September of last year.
However, additional funding in state grants could hasten law enforcement’s goal. KXAN reported in January that a “recently-created state grant program” could facilitate the purchasing of body cameras, providing $750,000 towards the cause.
The state grant money is made available through a $10 million program spearheaded by Governor Greg Abbott, a one-time offer geared at equipping police departments in Texas with lapel cameras.
The funds are available to any police department looking to apply. However, interested law enforcement agencies “must provide matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant,” KXAN reported.
“Austin is second only to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in total grant dollars awarded to 267 Texas law enforcement agencies. Statewide, the $10 million fund will provide 9,953 cameras divided between 16,913 officers at 267 law enforcement agencies large and small.”
The Austin Police Department initially showed little interest in lapel cameras, asking council members to postpone purchasing the equipment until the technology improved. However, Councilwoman Ora Houston and Mayor Steve Adler pushed forward, expressing their support for manning police with body cameras.
The City of Austin hopes to have its entire police force outfitted with the cameras within the next three years, according to reports. Police Chief Art Acevedo said he was confident that the cameras would catch cops doing the right thing.
“We believe that, in the vast majority of the time, police are doing the right things for the right reasons, and this will document that,” he said last fall.
But the Austin Police Department doesn’t always operate by the book. During Austin’s annual South by Southwest festival in March 2016, officers were caught pepper spraying an entire crowd of concert goers on Sixth Street.
Another incident caught on camera shows an officer spraying a handcuffed man in the back of a prisoner transport unit. The episode is currently under investigation.
Both events were caught on video by the Peaceful Streets Project, a local volunteer-based activist group dedicated to curbing police brutality.
The group was formed by Austin resident Antonio Buehler, who was charged with a felony crime in 2012 after he attempted to film the arrest of a young woman being handled aggressively by an APD officer. The charges against Buehler were eventually thrown out.
Click here to learn more about his story.