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Austin Police Implement New Release Policy on Video of Officer-Involved Shootings

In a move being heralded by many in Open Government circles, the Austin Police Department has issued a general order which would release APD video of officer-involved shootings within 60 days of a “critical incident.”

APD’s newly implemented policy covers body-worn camera video (BWC), digital in-car video (DMAV), or other video captured by the department, and video captured by third parties that is in APD’ s possession.

“Our community has an undeniable interest in being informed, in a timely fashion and based on the most accurate information available, about incidents where officers use lethal force, or where the use of force by the police results in the serious bodily injury of another,” the new policy states in its opening purpose.

APD said it is the intent of the policy to balance the public's interest in transparency, police accountability, the necessity of preserving the integrity of criminal and administrative investigations, and the privacy interests of the individuals depicted in such videos.

APD can withhold video under certain conditions, but if APD’s chief of police determines that no video will be released following a critical incident, APD will post a statement summarizing the reasons for the decision within 45 days of the incident with an explanation as to whether or not an opportunity for release exists/or is possible at a future date.

APD will post released video on its website for at least two years.

Newsroom requests for such video were often denied outright under the Texas Public Information Act’s so-called “law enforcement exception” which allows police departments to withhold information if it would prevent the detection, investigation, or prosecution of a crime.

Law enforcement video has sometimes been released, but oftentimes release occurred months or even years after the fact.

To TAB’s knowledge, Austin is the first major Texas police department to adopt such a transparency policy.

“This is a welcome move after years of debate at the Texas Capitol over the release of law enforcement generated footage,” said TAB President Oscar Rodriguez.

“TAB is hopeful that APD’s new policy will show lawmakers and other Texas police departments, that release of critical incident footage makes sense. It holds law enforcement, and in some instances, citizens, accountable for their actions.”

The new policy has already undergone its first legal challenge by attorneys for an APD officer involved in a deadly shooting in late April, but the challenge was short-lived as the court motion to prevent release of the video was withdrawn.

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Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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