Jennifer Laurin

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.”

Gov. Rick Perry makes a public statement defending his actions after being booked at the Travis County Justice Complex Tuesday. The booking occurred after Perry was indicted on Aug. 15 for incidences of fraud and government corruption.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Gov. Rick Perry pled “not guilty” to felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant after being indicted by a grand jury Aug. 15.

The charges are related to Perry’s attempts to force the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after her April 2013 drunken driving arrest.

According to the indictments, Perry vetoed legislation June 2013 awarding $7.5 million in state funds to the Travis County’s Public Integrity Unit, which investigates incidences of fraud and government corruption. Perry threatened the veto when Lehmberg refused to step down. After being booked at the Travis County Justice Complex on Tuesday, Perry made a statement defending his actions.

“The actions that I took were lawful, they were legal, and they were proper,” Perry said. “This indictment is fundamentally a political act that seeks to achieve at the courthouse what could not be achieved at the ballot box.”

University law professor Jennifer Laurin spoke with The Daily Texan about the case and shed some light on the challenges both the prosecution and defense might face. 

“[The First Amendment] requires the legislature to give adequate notice about what is criminal and what isn’t, so that people don’t refrain from speaking out of fear,” Laurin said.

The prosecution will most likely have to prove that Perry knew the veto threat was criminal at the time he made it, as well as show the $7.5 million appropriation was the governor’s property, according to Texas Penal Code 39.02. 

“There is some question whether the governor had custody over a legislative appropriation at the time of the veto,” Laurin said. “That’s going to be a novel legal question that’s going to have to be resolved.”

Laurin said it appears the prosecution will argue Perry’s motivations — whether political or for self-protection — distinguish this from an ordinary veto threat, but that waits to be seen with the evidence.

The public integrity unit was investigating the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which awarded $11 million to a private company without the required review process. Perry has been accused of attempting to halt the investigation by defunding the unit. 

At the time of the veto, Perry stated he believed Lehmberg had lost public confidence. After the indictment, Perry’s super PAC released videos on its site of Lehmberg’s arrest, including her field sobriety test and subsequent videos of her being restrained by officers at the Travis County jail.

Perry waived his scheduled Friday arraignment and traveled to New Hampshire to address Republican voters in the country’s first primary state, lending to speculations about a possible 2016 bid for the White House.

Perry’s attorneys were present at the hearing and stated they intend to file a motion to have the case dismissed.

“The governor has yet to talk about a real solution to these indictments,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, who filed the original complaint that led to the indictments. “Someday, when it gets to trial — if it does, and I think it will — he will have to address the real issues here.”