Assuming the City Council approves, the Dallas Police Department intends to have a body camera at almost every crime scene within five years, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said Monday. About half of the city's 2,200 patrol officers would be equipped with the cameras, 200 at a time, each year.
Implementing the cameras raises two obvious problems: First, a thousand cameras are going to generate a ton of video, that video has to be transmitted and stored somehow. Second, how do you maintain the privacy rights of people who interacted with police when those cops could potentially be recording every second of those interactions.
Brown and Tom Lawrence, one of the chief's top assistants, offered a more conclusive answer to the first question than the second. At the end of his or her shift, a body camera wearing officer would dock his or her phone to a networked secure server at City Hall. That server would then, according to police, use a secure Internet connection to upload the video to the cloud. Video that isn't tagged as potentially important within 30 days would be deleted.
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As for the obvious privacy concerns, those kinks are still being worked out. Brown and Lawrence said that the department would look at trying to carve out exceptions to what camera footage would be available to the public via a public information request, specifically in cases in which the person on camera might have a reasonable expectation of privacy -- like their home. Brown also expressed concern that publicly available video might influence a grand jury.
Although Brown didn't mention it specifically, there's an obvious line to be drawn in the case of Jason Harrison, the screwdriver-wielding mentally ill man shot and killed by Dallas police officers last June. The video in that case was released in mid-March, five weeks before a grand jury declined to indict the officers who shot Harrison.
Although generally supportive of the plan to add the cameras, the members of the council's Public Safety Committee did tell Brown that they would like to see DPD's plan for using the cameras -- which is still being drafted -- before the full council votes to fund the program on May 27.