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Defining HPD body camera policies

It’s still a work in progress.

Houston Police Department officers would activate body cameras when arriving at a crime scene, initiating a traffic stop and during an arrest or search, according to a long awaited proposal outlining use of the devices that was released Tuesday.

But City Council members said they were concerned by a process they said seemed to have failed to seek input from everyday officers, the public or other non-law enforcement groups. They also said the policy did not adequately address tricky logistical problems such as how the department planned to store camera footage, or explain how much the whole process would eventually cost.

“I’m really concerned that there are no community stakeholders involved,” said C.O. “Brad” Bradford, an at-large city council member and former HPD police chief.

Council member Michael Kubosh called for “the public at least have an opportunity to come and discuss this matter before council” and urged for the body camera data storage to be run by an independent third-party vendor, and not the police department.

Timothy Oettmeier, HPD’s executive assistant chief, encountered the resistance after offering details of the draft policy at a three-hour presentation to the Council’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

Oettmeier said police officers would also use the body cameras when executing search warrants, transporting prisoners, engaging in suspect pursuits or interviewing victims. In some situations – such as quickly unfolding events – officers might not be able to immediately activate their cameras, he said.

Police officers working extra jobs would also wear the devices, he said.

[…]

Oettmeier said the presentation to the committee was the department’s first step in presenting the policy to the public.

The draft also outlined retention plans for the data. Oettmeier said that for footage deemed evidentiary, the department would retain the video for a period of time following the state’s statute of limitations for the recorded offense or case.

Footage deemed nonevidentiary would be kept for 90 days. The department plans to regularly audit the recordings, he said, with supervisors and internal investigators both reviewing recorded footage every year.

One key point of pushback from city leaders came after Oettmeier said officers would have to classify whether the footage was evidentiary.

“From a conflict of interest standpoint, how can the officer that may have been involved in the arrest, in the crime, in the whatever, determine an evidentiary position or opinion, because it seems like that would be a conflict of interest,” said council member Dave Martin.

I agree with CMs Bradford and Kubosh. Community input is going to be vital to ensure everyone buys into the plan. As for Kubosh’s comments, let me put my IT hat on for a minute here. There are a few things to think about.

1. Security: Who has access to the video footage? That’s a policy question, but for that policy to be properly enforced, there needs to be monitoring of who accesses what, and a full audit trail, since among other things we’ll need to know who at the hosting company is doing what with these files. And who has access to the audit logs? What is the request process, and who if anyone approves requests?

2. File retention: How long is that period that evidentiary footage is kept? What about backups? When a file is deemed no longer needed, are backups destroyed as well?

3. Incidents and alerts: We’ve already discussed monitoring. What happens when an unathorized access attempt occurs? Under what conditions are HPD, the District Attorney, and the relevant defense attorneys notified when there has been a potential incident? Who gets notified, and when, in the event of an outage, whether planned or unplanned?

This stuff isn’t terribly complicated, and I’m sure HPD already has similar policies in place for its existing data. But getting back to Bradford’s point, the public needs to be involved in setting these policies. If the idea is to have this up and running by the beginning of next year, we need to get this going. The Press has more.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Houston says:

    Having now read the voluminous policy, I am sure that additional changes will be made as events arise testing not just the fringes of camera use but other aspects as well. I’m curious as to the cost of the data storage choices, in house or via Mike Kubosh’s independent party, as well as the legal ramifications of allowing a third party to fully control the evidence.

    The supervisory review portion leads me to believe that very little footage will be looked at unless a formal complaint is made or it comes up in a court case, the city police have a system in place to show how long a supervisor took to review a report by one of their officer’s as well as time date the access. Would something like this be the case for the video footage too? Would it show a review in real time versus speeding through a clip, etc.

    In all, I have to agree that holding some meetings to allow the public to provide real input that helps shape the policy makes sense but given the amount of time and energy already put into it, would anything change?