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Get Ready to Fight to Preserve Access to Law Enforcement “Dashcam” Video

If a Dallas state lawmaker has his way, access to so-called “dashcam” video will be as difficult as law enforcement “body cam” video, which is rarely released to the public.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, has refiled a bill from last session, which he said at the time was an attempt to establish a uniform policy concerning the release and storage of body and dash cam video.

The 2017 bill made it all the way to the House Local and Consent Calendars Committee, but it failed to get a date on the House floor.  This session’s bill, SB 332, is captioned as a bill to address the issue of racial profiling, but it does more to impose restrictions on the release of law enforcement dashcam video.

West passed the original legislation requiring dashcams in 2001 in a larger bill focused on racial profiling.  “Police officers called me everything except a child of God,” West told KDFW-TV Dallas-Ft. Worth in an August 2018 interview.  “Now, police officers won’t leave the station without a dash camera or a body camera because it helps them defend against frivolous complaints.”

West’s 2015 body camera legislation, as originally filed, made such video somewhat available, but as the measure moved through the legislature, it became increasingly restrictive because of concerns raised by the law enforcement community.  Open Government advocates such as TAB and others are trying to prevent the same restrictions from being applied to dashcam video.

A recent Austin American-Statesman editorial said, “Police video has the power to give an unbiased, unflinching view of what really happened — but it works only when the public is allowed to see it.”  TAB notes that if release of the dash or body cam video is truly an issue, any law enforcement agency can today assert Section 552.108 of the Texas Public Information Act, which allows video to be withheld if release would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of a crime.

Your Help is Needed
Over the years there have been several examples of dashcam video that have shed light on the actions of law enforcement.  Does your station have a story or stories featuring law enforcement dashcam video? 

TAB would like to hear from you as that ammunition is needed to show why release of video should not be excessively restrictive.  What types of stories does TAB mean?

A notable example is the 2015 Department of Public Safety traffic stop that ultimately led to the death of Sandra Bland.  It is questionable whether the DPS video would have been released in the case because of the TPIA law-enforcement exception, but powerful lawmakers like West became involved.

At a July 2015 media availability, West said “We want to make certain that there’s transparency. We believe there are questions that need to be answered as relates to the arrest.”  Later that afternoon, the DPS released dashcam footage of Bland’s arrest taken from the state trooper Brian Encinia’s car that showed him threatening to drag Bland out of her car and “light her up” with a Taser.

Another good example?

KXAN-TV’s duPont-Columbia award-winning investigation, Racial Profiling Whitewash, utilized dashcam video as it analyzed more than 16 million DPS traffic stop records to reveal state troopers systematically under-reported the number of minorities stopped on Texas roads. 

For example, KXAN used dashcam video to show Dominique Deshaun McGrew’s arrest during a traffic stop.  Said KXAN in its report, “In the dashcam video it’s clear that McGrew is African American.  But instead of recording him as black, the trooper recorded him as white.”  Because of KXAN’s investigative efforts questioned the validity of DPS racial profiling reports using records and dashcam video.

The investigative report “led to immediate statewide changes in the way Texas troopers conduct traffic stops and record racial profiling data,” said KXAN.  The station found similar problems with the Austin Police Department.  TAB is certain there are other notable examples out there, so please contact TAB if your station has one.

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

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