Texas Approves Comprehensive Body Camera Law, Texas Senator Royce West's Bill Could Become National Model

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Senator West’s Senate Bill 158 establishes statewide policy on the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement and provides a grant program to assist law enforcement agencies in purchasing cameras.

Texas State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas)

“Police departments are finding that by using body cameras to document encounters between police officers and citizens, it reduces complaints against police as well as the use of lethal force,” said Senator West.

Texas State Senator Royce West's (D-Dallas) efforts have led to the passage of one of the most comprehensive pieces of body camera legislation in the nation into law. Senator West’s Senate Bill 158 establishes statewide policy on the use of body-worn cameras by law enforcement and provides a grant program to assist law enforcement agencies in purchasing cameras. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill on Friday, June 19, 2015, after the Texas Senate approved the bill 22-8 and the Texas House passed a similar measure 135-4. SB158 will become law on Sept. 1.

The new law will also leverage state purchasing power to assist agencies with the purchase of body camera equipment, data storage and the operation of a body-worn camera program in addition to creating a grant program that will be administered by the governor's office. Local police and sheriff's departments will be eligible to apply for grant funding. Senator West worked effectively with Senate leaders, the Lt. Governor, House leadership and the Office of the Governor to secure more than $10 million in funding for the matching grant program.

SB158 addresses major policy concerns such as those of open records, privacy, records retention, local policies, funding and data management. To accomplish this, Sen. West assembled a workgroup of law enforcement administration and labor organizations, sheriff’s departments, city and county organizations, advocacy groups, prosecutors and defense attorneys to address the varied issues related to body cameras from every angle.

"We were able to begin the process through the framework provided by the draft version of SB158. When the legislative session began, this allowed discussion by stakeholders to begin immediately," said Senator West. "Through the dialogue that emerged, we were able to gain consensus on the proper approach to critical issues such as when a camera should be in operation, data management and retention, open records policy and cost. By the time the bill emerged from committee, it had earned the support of law enforcement agencies. I felt it was important for Texas to be at the forefront of this emerging issue related to police accountability and also to respond to issues raised by our communities nationwide."

With the recent surge of controversial incidents being recorded on cell phones across the country, video evidence has become a critical element in sorting out what really happened in police involved deadly force cases. Senator West sees the new law as a way to repair the fraying relationship between the public and law enforcement. “Police departments are finding that by using body cameras to document encounters between police officers and citizens, it reduces complaints against police as well as the use of lethal force,” said Senator West.

This is the second chapter for Senator West regarding the video documentation of police work. Back in 2001, he crafted successful legislation that required dashboard cameras in police cruisers. “Opposition to that state law and program was harsh, but now police officers won’t leave the station without them,” he said.

Senator West applauds the work of Rep. Allen Fletcher in guiding SB158 through the Texas House of Representatives.

For more information, please contact Kelvin Bass at 469-231-7113.

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