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House Signs Off on Body Camera Bill

The Texas House has tentatively approved legislation that could increase the use of cameras worn by police officers, an effort to smooth relations between law enforcement and the public by making their interactions more transparent.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and Austin Police Association President Kenneth Casaday speak with state Sen. Royce West, ...

The Texas House on Sunday tentatively approved legislation that could increase the use of cameras worn by police officers across Texas, an effort to smooth relations between law enforcement and the public by making their interactions more transparent.

If finally passed, Sen. Royce West’s Senate Bill 158 would allow law enforcement agencies to apply for grants to equip their officers with body cameras and draw up guidelines for their use.

It would create a statewide grant program to fund training, the purchase of equipment and the cost of implementing the policy that would draw upon federal funds. Law enforcement agencies would have to match 25 percent of any grant they receive.

“There was a lot of public mistrust of communities of color and police,” said Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, before a voice vote on the legislation, which already cleared the Senate. “Body cameras are certainly not a magic solution, but they are a tool in criminal justice to rebuild trust and rebuild transparency.”

Body cameras are recording devices that can be affixed to law enforcement officers and used to document their actions. Their use has come into focus on the heels of a national debate about police accountability and safety. 

In Texas, Fort Worth, Sugar Land and Corpus Christi are among the cities that already have body camera programs, while several other cities, including Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, are still testing such programs. 

Though it passed easily in a preliminary House vote, and likely will on a final vote in that chamber, some House lawmakers criticized it. Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, said she had privacy concerns.

“I really have a huge issue with this,” she said. “I just really feel like it’s an infringement upon our rights to have to be filmed for everything.” 

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