APD considering updated technology; head, in-car cameras

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New digital video technology may allow the Austin Police Department to use cameras worn on the head to record evidence and update in-car technology that the UT Police Department has already implemented. This spring, APD will begin testing 75-100 new head cameras, which will be useful in recording evidence and increase trust in the community, said APD Cmdr. Troy Gay. “We’ve gathered all the requirements that we believe are necessary in officer-worn cameras,” Gay said. “There’s only a handful of companies that may meet our requirements. We want to be able to manage the equipment as best as we can and have real strict guidelines so that the images are unable to be manipulated.” APD is looking for an officer-worn camera that meets these guidelines, possibly even one that fits on the uniform, Gay said. The officer-worn cameras are an estimated $200,000, he said. Head cameras would provide additional evidence that cannot be recorded by using cameras on patrol cars, but more testing is needed to determine if cameras should be worn on officers’ uniforms instead. “Our major concern is the safety of the equipment,” said Wayne Vincent, Austin Police Association president. “If we’re wearing cameras we want them to be on the uniform or some place we know they will be secure.” A portion of APD officers ride bicycles or horses and currently have no way to record evidence, Gay said. “Everything is moving towards the digital, and unfortunately we have a number of our officers who don’t have vehicles to access that technology,” Gay said. “The cameras will help us create transparency and increase our ability to record any instances that may occur on duty.” APD is in the process of updating their in-car video technology from VHS to digital, a process that will take about 15 months and cost an estimated $15 million to implement. Wireless network components, backup systems and storage technology must be established at each substation before the new system can be entirely effective, Gay said. In May 2009, former APD Officer Leonardo Quintana fatally shot 18-year-old Nathaniel Sanders II in what he said was self-defense. Quintana did not activate his camera at the time of the shooting. “Our department is trying to keep up with the advances in technology to provide a better visual image of what occurred, to create trust and transparency within the community,” he said. The high cost of officer-worn cameras may prevent UTPD from using them in the foreseeable future, UTPD Lt. Dennis Chartier said. While APD’s in-car digital cameras are in the implementation process after two years of planning, UTPD is already using similar devices in their patrol cars. “All of our patrol cars have in-car cameras that come on automatically when the overhead lights turn on,” Chartier said. “The officers also have microphones on their uniforms that they can use to turn the cameras on manually.” UTPD’s in-car cameras have the ability to go back and record the previous minute, a technology useful for traffic cases, Chartier said. “They help a lot in traffic incidents and are a tremendous value in DWI cases,” Chartier said.