In Aftermath of South Carolina Police Shooting, Texas Considers Mandatory Body Cameras

Illustration of a potential police body camera setup.
Illustration of a potential police body camera setup.

As much of the nation still reels from the death of Walter Scott, a South Carolina man shot in the back by police officer Michael Slager, the Texas House of Representatives considered mandating body cameras for the state's police officers Thursday. Slager was charged with murdering Scott on Tuesday after a bystander-filmed video surfaced of the killing. Initially, Slager said he feared for his life because Scott took his Taser, the video shows Slager shooting Scott as Scott runs away from him, then possibly placing an object near Scott's body.

Ron Reynolds, a Democrat from Missouri City who's written a bill that would require cops around the state to wear the cameras, said in a hearing of the Texas House Emerging issues in Law Enforcement Committee that Scott's killing was proof of the need for body cameras. In Hispanic and African-American communities especially, Reynolds said, police wearing body cameras would help build trust.

A constable from Harris County testified to the many complications requiring body cameras might cause, saying they shouldn't be required until the technology fully emerges. It makes filling open records requests especially hard, the constable said, because it's hard to blur all personal information in a video. A representative for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas expressed concerns for the privacy of the officers wearing the cameras.

Departments that couldn't afford body cameras would be eligible for waivers under Reynolds' proposal. Royce West, the Democratic state senator from Dallas, has proposed a bill that would require police departments to develop guidelines for the cameras and apply for grants to pay for them.

"This is a national debate, and Texas cannot afford to be left out of the debate and cut out of the solution," West said in December.

Reynolds says that he intends to work with West, law enforcement and others to find workable legislation that will lead to more cameras or more officers.

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