Ely Reyes

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Austin Police Department officers could soon be getting body cameras that would allow them to record public interactions while on duty, according to an APD official.

Ely Reyes, APD police technology commander, said APD posted a request for information about body camera specifics on the city website in November. The city has until Dec. 10 to respond to the request, after which APD will analyze the information and determine how to move forward with its plans, Reyes said.

According to Reyes, although public demand for body cameras may have increased because of public shootings and the events in Ferguson, Missouri, APD has tested body cameras for its officers before, in 2011 and 2012, but the technology was still fairly new at that time.

“We’ve had this on our road map for a while — now we’re waiting for the technology to integrate into our systems,” Reyes said.

APD currently has digital cameras in all of its patrol vehicles, but Reyes said what they capture is limited to the view from the front of the car. APD wants cameras that will integrate with the current in-car system and also expand to bikes and pedestrian officers.

“Our goal is to capture as many citizen interactions as possible,” Reyes said. 

The cameras would not be turned on the whole time while an officer is on duty — only under certain circumstances, Reyes said.

“We don’t have the ability to store 24/7 data because that takes up a lot of space, and a lot of it is not needed for anything,” Reyes said. “They would be turned on when an officer is interacting with the public or responding to a call.” 

Reyes said the department doesn’t yet have an estimate of how much the cameras will cost but said other departments have piloted the cameras. Reyes said the New York Police Department recently spent $60,000 to test the technology with 60 of its officers. 

Law professor Jennifer Laurin said body cameras are useful for accurate legal claims, especially when those claims involve use of force by the police. 

“Simply wearing body cameras can have the effect of deterring police from engaging in unnecessary or excessive use of force against the public,” Laurin said in an email. “Body cameras can also facilitate better supervision of officers if recordings are regularly audited by supervisors.”

Laurin said there are some privacy concerns raised by the use of body cameras, especially if police officers enter non-public spaces, such as homes or businesses. 

“If, for example, officers have discretion as to when cameras are on or off, the monitoring benefits will be largely lost. This is another area where clear internal policies will be essential to protecting civilians’ rights,” Laurin said. 

Michael Lauderdale, a social work professor who focuses on criminal justice, said he was generally in favor of body cameras because they provide transparency. 

“The use of video cameras in [police] cars has been mainly positive and have served to protect the officers and the public,” Lauderdale said. “I think the experience would be similar for patrol officers. I think the potential benefits outweigh the costs, and some of the issues will be solved only by trial and error.”

A woman illegally crosses Guadalupe Street at the 34th Street intersection Friday afternoon. Pedestrian deaths make up about 50 percent of all traffic fatalities in Austin.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

An increase in pedestrian-involved automobile fatalities has produced a new “three-pronged” strategy by the Austin Police Department to prevent these incidents by using education, engineering and enforcement.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo addressed alarming new statistics of pedestrian-involved automobile fatalities this year on Wednesday and outlined new initiatives he hopes will counteract these numbers. Pedestrians involved in these fatalities have increased nearly 29 percent during the past 12 months. Nineteen of the 40 fatalities involved pedestrians, and over 30 percent of them took place along I-35 Highway and its frontage roads.

Ely Reyes, an APD lieutenant, said APD will apply the new three-pronged strategy in the upcoming months. These initiatives are part of APD’s Pedestrian Enforcement Safety Team, which was founded October 2011. The main goal of this program is to protect pedestrians by focusing on pedestrian-related automobile accidents.

“We are doing media interviews and handing out information on flyers explaining the laws related to pedestrians and vehicles in relation to pedestrians,” Reyes said.

APD is also handing out more tickets for violations in certain areas. The APD is utilizing Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety, a program that uses crime data and data analysis to pinpoint prime locations. Locations are also based on auto-pedestrian crash history and complaints from citizens, he said.

Reyes also said the third part of the strategy involved the roads themselves.

“We are also working with City of Austin Transportation and TXDOT to implement engineering changes to help reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities,” he said.

Another strategy now in effect is “Operation Summer Sundays,” which was implemented June 24 and will be in place until Sept. 1. It targets the most dangerous day of the week for these fatalities, Sunday night, by increasing enforcement from 6 p.m. Sunday night to 6 a.m. Monday morning. 

The Austin Police Department completed the first phase of its zero-tolerance jaywalking initiative Saturday and has begun the second phase, which focuses on cars failing to yield to street-crossing pedestrians.

According to Lt. Ely Reyes, APD issued 475 citations and 180 warnings to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists for pedestrian-related violations during the first two-week initiative. Fifty citations were given to cars failing to yield to pedestrians and 13 arrests were made due to outstanding arrest warrants, he said.

Reyes said the week-long second phase of the initiative targets cars that don’t yield to pedestrians as they cross the street and uses different tactics than the first phase.

“We are utilizing plainclothes police officers who cross the street [legally] and see if cars obey the law,” Reyes said. “Then we will have motorcycle police arrive and issue the citation if the cars don’t yield.”

Reyes said the heavy police presence during the first phase made cars follow the traffic laws, but a stronger effort is needed to reduce the number of cars breaking the law in general.

“Crossing the street or not yielding to pedestrians becomes a habitual action if you are never fined for breaking these laws,” Reyes said. “Our plan was to enforce [car violations], but when [they] see officers, they are more likely to comply and yield.”

APD sees the zero-tolerance initiative and the increase in citations given as necessary to promote safety and reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities.

Reyes said the increase in pedestrian fatalities coincides with the relatively low number of citations given during the first nine months of 2011.

“From January to September 2011, we issued 2,100 citations, which is a four-year low,” Reyes said. “We’ve also seen a spike in pedestrian fatalities during this time period.”

In 2007, the number of pedestrian fatalities was 24, and APD responded in 2008 by issuing 8,000 citations for pedestrian violations. The number of fatalities dropped to 15, Reyes said.

In 2009, the number of citations decreased from 8,000 to 5,000 with 15 reported fatalities. In 2010, there were 4,000 citations with 10 reported fatalities. The increase in pedestrian fatalities in 2011 from 10 to 17 was the basis for APD’s zero-tolerance initiative.

Electrical engineering freshmen Kelvin Odom and Brian Russell said they saw a police officer give a citation to someone for crossing against the signal immediately after they did the same thing on 24th Street and Guadalupe Street.

“I think it’s good the police are looking out for safety,” Odam said. “But giving $190 fines is pretty excessive, and I would definitely try to have it reduced to just community service.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 as: APD changes ticketing focus to unyielding cars

The Austin Police Department has begun ticketing people for jaywalking and other violations after a sharp increase in pedestrian fatalities this year.

Seventeen pedestrians have been killed this year in motor vehicle accidents — a 143 percent increase compared to last year, said Lt. Ely Reyes of APD’s Highway Enforcement Command.

From Oct. 24 through Nov. 5, Reyes said APD will use a zero-tolerance program to enforce laws prohibiting crossing anywhere other than a designated crosswalk, crossing against a do not cross signal and soliciting or loitering at frontage road intersections.

“We are going to focus on Congress Avenue and Cesar Chavez Street, Congress Avenue and Riverside Drive, Slaughter Lane and I-35 and various locations on Guadalupe Street and Lamar Boulevard,” Reyes said.

Robert Dahlstrom, UT Police Department’s chief of police, said enforcing these kinds of restrictions on campus doesn’t work because it is a different environment from the rest of Austin.

“We don’t have enough officers in the world to start writing tickets [for pedestrian violations],” Dahlstrom said. “But we encourage people to always be careful and pay attention to all the cars, bikes and pedestrians that we have on campus.”

Reyes said APD compiled data from the past four years to determine the 50 locations in Austin with the most pedestrian accidents. Six to 12 motorcycle officers will be patrolling these areas throughout the day. Reyes said the only purpose of the zero-tolerance program is to reduce the number of accidents occurring at these locations around Austin.

“Some people said this was about APD trying to increase revenue, but we only want to save lives and reduce accidents,” Reyes said.

Public relations sophomore Cara Pascarella said she sometimes jaywalks on campus but understands the danger of doing so on busy roads.

“People jaywalk on campus mostly because they are in a hurry to get places,” Pascarella said. “I also see people who are using their cell phones while crossing the street, and they don’t really pay attention.”

Reyes said APD worked with the courts to reach a deal that allows people who receive a ticket to plea for a reduced fine in exchange for community service.

“We looked for a way to reduce the financial penalty for these violations,” Reyes said.

Printed on Friday, October 28, 2011 as: ADP enforcing more tickets for jaywalking