A small, black device -- slightly heavier than a cell phone -- carries enough weight to change policing in Austin.
"This is a great tool for the community," said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. "I think it's a great tool for the police department and it's going to help us as we continue to re-define how we're doing community policing here in Austin."
Next week, the Austin Police Department will officially launch it's body-worn camera program.
APD has 736 cameras. The department will start by issuing 198 cameras to officers at the East Substation next week. In November, the department plans to issue officers at the main headquarters 234 cameras. Then in December, 228 cameras will be issued to officers at the South Substation. The remaining cameras are backup in case there is a technical issue. Officers in the North Substation will be issued cameras after APD is able to order more.
The launch comes years after the Austin City Council approved implementing a body camera program. Manley said that's because the department wanted to get this right.
"One of the reasons we waited so long to implement a body worn camera program here in Austin is we wanted to ensure we have a program that works for us. We wanted to have all of the automatic triggers," Manley explained. "It took us a couple of years to wait for the industry to catch up to where we wanted it to be and have camera systems that actually have all of the triggers."
When an officer opens their car door, the cameras automatically start to record. Officers are also required to record manually when arriving at a call.
"The officer will simply give two presses. The camera will give a small alert to let them know it's recording," said APD Technology Division Commander Brent Dupre.
APD has a 7-page policy (policy 303) outlining where the cameras must be worn, when they have to be on or off and what happens to the video. The department will store videos for at least 181 days. The public will be able to request videos, but as outlined in state law, the public will have to provide specific information to obtain a video. And if the person requesting the video is not in it, they will have to submit a consent letter.
The cameras themselves are stored in a locked room, accessible only with a key card. When the cameras are placed on the charging dock they automatically upload the video recorded that day.
"This community is going to get what it has long desired and that is the ability to have yet another view of police activity," Manley said.