Texas bike and motor cops to get body cameras

Police expect the number of complaints against officers to decrease with the use of the cameras

By Andrea Salazar
The Eagle

BRYAN, Texas — Body cameras on police officers are expected to make their debut on College Station streets later this fall.

Brazos County sheriff's deputies on patrol were already equipped with the recording gear but College Station's bicycle and motorcycle patrol officers will soon join them thanks to the police department's purchase of 16 body cameras. The College Station City Council on Monday approved the purchase of the cameras and 11 new Tasers for $39,997.19.

While body cameras have been in the news since the August shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Lt. Chris Perkins, a 15-year veteran of the College Station Police Department, said the department had been looking into buying the gear before the Ferguson incident.

"We have our Northgate guys operating on bicycles where they don't have any camera systems and an environment where they deal with fights and that sort of thing, so we wanted to outfit them with [the cameras] to capture evidence," Perkins said.

Their goal is to eventually equip all 63 officers patrolling College Station streets with the cameras to benefit the officers and the public.

"The body cameras are a first-person witness to what is going on," Perkins said. "In addition to capturing evidence and interactions the officer has with the public, it puts everybody on a level playing field."

Police expect the number of complaints against officers to decrease with the use of the cameras.

In 2013, College Station police received 34 complaints, which included 42 allegations. Twelve of those allegations were sustained. 2013 saw an increase from 20 complaints filed in 2012, but remained below the eight-year average of 44.5 complaints per year.

Bryan police reported 12 complaints, with 32 allegations, in 2013 and 25 complaints, with 67 allegations, in 2012. Of the allegations made in 2013, 10 were sustained, resulting in written or oral reprimands against the officers.

When using the body cameras, which will be worn on the chest area, except for motorcycle patrols who will wear them on their helmets, officers will have to activate the device upon contacting a citizen or starting a traffic stop, but the policy won't apply to every situation, Perkins said.

"People shouldn't be concerned that everything will be recorded, just those events that have potential evidence or traffic stops, calls for service, etc.," he said.

Bryan police are also looking into purchasing body cameras for its officers. The department currently has five body cameras being tested by patrol and school resource officers. Chief Eric Buske said his department is in "research mode" and expects a proposal to be sent to the council within the year, if not sooner.

The Brazos County Sheriff's Office has outfitted its patrol and courthouse deputies with body cameras, and Sheriff Chris Kirk said last month that jail staff is also testing the gear.

The other addition to College Station officer's duty belts are 11 new Tasers approved for purchase during the current budget with 10 more that can be obtained when the next budget goes into effect on Oct. 1. The new Tasers will bring the department closer to outfitting all its patrol officers with the device, an effort that began in 2009 and has deployed 37 Tasers so far.

In Bryan, Tasers are an optional tool for patrol officers, who must go through a course to be issued one. Sixty-five of its officers carry a Taser. All county deputies are issued a Taser.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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