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When should body camera video be released?

HPD is still working on it.

As the Houston Police Department begins rolling out body cameras among the rank and file, Chief Charles A. McClelland said the department is changing its policy governing how and when HPD releases videos collected by the devices.

“If we have a body camera video that’s an officer-involved shooting or complaint against one of our officers, if we have completed the administrative investigation, which looks for policy and procedure and training violations, and we have completed the criminal investigation, meaning the case went to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, I’m going to release it,” McClelland said Thursday. “I’m not going to hold it in anticipation of civil litigation.”

The shift reflects the uncharted waters many departments find themselves in as they roll out the new devices and how law enforcement is responding to the scrutiny they have faced in the last year over how they use force against civilians.

McClelland said the department is still seeking guidance from the Office of the Attorney General about when the department could release videos – particularly when a grand jury declines to indict an officer involved in a shooting.

“We need to get some clarity on that,” he said, explaining that state law only allows for videos to be released after a shooting has been fully adjudicated. A no-bill is not necessarily a final adjudication, he said, adding that while the department would likely be releasing videos sooner, the entire process could still take six months to a year before they ended up being released.

See here, here, and here for the background. I laid out my general issues in that last link. We do need the legal questions clarified, but the underlying goal here has to be transparency. The point of the cameras is for everyone to feel that information they need is available to them.

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3 Comments

  1. Paul Kubosh says:

    There should be no reason to hold the videos at all. Release them all. This kind of crap is why Mike and Bradford voted against the cameras. This issue was not settled and now it will be up to the Police when they release the video. The Citizens were cut out of the process. Just remember the Chicago shooting how long did it take to release the video? Over a year? Just remember the Chad Holly video? Mayor Parker and the Chief said the person who released the video should be charged with a criminal offense.

    Stupid just plain stupid.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    I really don’t get what withholding evidence of any kind does. It will taint the jury pool? Uh, the jury is going to see that video, or whatever evidence there may be anyway. What difference does it make if they see it in the courtroom, or on YouTube? Release the video. Not doing so just makes it look like the police have something to hide. It would be better for all concerned to just put it out when a FOIA request is made, and be done with it.

  3. Steve Houston says:

    You won’t find a bigger supporter of body and car cameras than myself but when these articles come up, I feel compelled to comment regarding some of the things the city has done wrong.

    1) There were some serious shenanigans during the procurement process according to a couple council members and the union leader, Ray Hunt(sp?), who wrote at length about a fixed deal for the particular camera system picked. When a city tells vendors they will automatically be out of the running if they participate in an open forum to show their wares, you know something is wrong, just as when those who were in the running found out weeks or months after a weaker competitor was picked and by second hand sources.

    2) Agreeing with PK here that every single frame shot should be released automatically. This wishy washy “new” policy is no different than the previous policy of “you’ll get it when we say you can get it, if at all”. Given the history of legal opinions from overpriced city lawyers over the past 25 years, the kind that show city legal justifying whatever a current mayor wants to do rather than a realistic opinions that keep the city out of trouble, I’d go with the belief that the public deserves the footage it paid for in a timely fashion UNTIL someone comes up with a very specific and definitive legal opinion to the contrary.

    3) It is expected that Chief Charles A. McClelland will retire when Turner takes office and appoints fresh blood. His second in command just bailed on short notice and others are likely to follow, perhaps Mike Kubosh can share some of the details if he was deemed fit to hear them, but timing the release of footage, good or bad for public opinion polls, is exactly the kind of thing we just don’t need. Admittedly, if the local media edit said footage or play small portions out of context ala Rodney King, perhaps the city will provide buses and refreshments for protesters to deliver them to the media outlet to excise their freedom of speech, but maybe Turner should discuss this topic with all police command staff individually and ditch the ones who fail to see the will of the people.

    It might be a good time to suggest Turner hold open forums to discuss further revisions to all such policies, allowing verbal and written submissions from all who care to participate, preferably without highly restrictive time limits (“Sorry sir, your one minute is up for the month”). Make it the first of a traveling road show around the city for the convenience of the citizenry, with days and times allowing regular folks to participate.