Law enforcement agencies in Texas will no longer release footage from the body cameras officers wear during their shifts for free, a result of a new rule that went into effect on Thanksgiving.
The new rule, put into place by the Office of the Attorney General, allows a law enforcement agency to recover costs for providing a copy of a body-worn camera recording. It allows a law enforcement agency to charge a $10 fee for each body-worn camera recording provided. It also allows a flat fee of $1 per minute of footage required to be reviewed if an identical copy has not previously been released.
By recording police encounters, police chiefs, judges, reporters and others can obtain objective evidence of what happened during an incident instead of relying on hearsay.
Cleburne, Texas Police Chief Rob Severance said the Cleburne Police Department was among the first departments in the area to fully implement body-worn cameras for all uniformed patrol officers.
“This has significantly increased the amount of video that must be reviewed and processed by department personnel,” he said. “The new rule adopted by the Office of the Attorney General allows an agency to recover costs for providing a body-worn camera recording. The department is reviewing our fees in accordance with this new rule.”
The storing and redaction of body camera footage, however, is a time consuming as well as expensive undertaking.
During the time of a police body camera study in Mesa, Arizona, three police body camera videos were forwarded to the Mesa Police Department Video Services Unit. The videos, which ranged from one to two hours long, took a total of 30.5 hours to edit for redaction.
In May 2015 the Associated Press reported that Cleveland expected to spend at least half a million dollars a year to store, maintain and replace the body cameras.
State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, said the new fee in Texas was part of a broader legislation that provided guidelines, training and requirement for managing body camera data, along with $10 million in matching grants to help local agencies with those costs.
“The funding was short term so a fee was authorized to be established by the attorney general to help law enforcement recover some of the costs going forward,” he said. “I believe body cam footage should be readily available and easily accessible to the public.”
Burns said generally speaking, he is opposed to new fees.
“However, without the ability to charge a fee for reviewing and making recordings, the requirements imposed by the state would place more unfunded mandates on our local governments,” he said. “Even though there were no witnesses against the legislation, nor were there any comments registered against the attorney general’s proposed fee, I think we need to be careful not to make access to body cam footage too expensive or difficult to access. Law enforcement agencies are not required to use body cameras, but I’m hopeful the ability to recover some of the costs will give more local governments the ability to use them.”
Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general, said law enforcement agencies can reduce the charge or provide the footage for free if they determine the recording is in the public interest.
Some other states, however, are choosing to increase their fees.
In Lafayette, Indiana, the city council in July approved a $150 fee for anyone wanting to obtain copies of police body camera footage.
Making the footage any cheaper could increase the frequency of requests and could potentially bog the department down, Lafayette Councilman Jerry Reynolds told the Lafayette Journal & Courier.
“If you had a fee at $10 a piece, everybody and his brother would want a copy,” he said. “Then you wouldn’t even be covering your costs, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable.”
Pounds writes for the Cleburne, Texas, Times-Review.