New HPD Body Cam Policy Would Likely Have Captured Alva Braziel Shooting

Some Houston police officers wear body cameras like this one.
Some Houston police officers wear body cameras like this one.
Meagan Flynn

When Mayor Sylvester Turner announced he would release the body camera footage from the night Alva Braziel was shot by police, his show of transparency was applauded across the state.

The move came less than three weeks after Braziel was killed. Two Houston police officers had spotted Braziel walking in the middle of Cullen Road carrying a gun on July 9. Braziel was shot less than ten seconds later — the officers said he pointed the gun right at them.

Black Lives Matter activists and the community at large puzzled over the grainy gas station surveillance footage depicting the shooting, unable to see for certain whether Braziel really did raise the pistol at the cops. It all happened so fast. Many still were convinced that Braziel never pointed the gun at all when Turner announced he would release the body camera footage to the public, trying to assuage all the uncertainty surrounding the shooting.

What Turner did not bother to mention, however, was that the body camera footage did not begin until just after Braziel was shot, already lying dead on the ground. The footage assuaged little.

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Now, though, Acting Police Chief Martha Montalvo has announced a new body camera policy that could have changed that, as KHOU first reported.

Currently, the body camera software is programmed to capture footage 30 seconds before and after officers press the record button. (Body cameras are always recording — but the only footage that is saved and uploaded is the footage after which and slightly before officers hit "record.") Now Montalvo wants that pre-recording feature to kick in a full two minutes before officers hit record.

Had that feature existed in July, the entire Alva Braziel shooting and interaction could have been captured.

In her memo to the police force, Montalvo also notes that the new cameras officers will begin receiving will also be equipped with a GPS feature, which will “greatly aid in the ability to search for all cameras that may have had video of a relevant scene,” Montalvo wrote.

Not everyone supports the change, however.

Ray Hunt, president of the Houston Police Officers Union, told the Houston Press he's concerned the augmented pre-recording feature will capture officers' private moments which, well, nobody wants to see, such as officers going to the bathroom, thus violating their privacy rights. Hunt said he's even telling officers to take off their body cameras while they go to the bathroom so, if they need to respond to a call directly afterward, it won't get captured.

Hunt, who supports body cameras but only a one-minute max pre-recording feature, asserts that Montalvo and HPD superiors did not think through this decision, and were only responding to protesters who were dissatisfied with the footage and transparency following the Braziel shooting. In fact, he doesn't even believe the Braziel shooting would have been captured even if the feature existed.

"[The new policy] is a knee-jerk reaction to a small group of people who were opposed to what happened in the Cullen shooting," Hunt said. "Had the officers turned it on before they put the car in park — it was such a quickly evolving incident, they didn't put the car in park first — you would have seen nothing but the inside of their hands or the door jam, from the way they were positioned. This is a lot of stuff about nothing."

In any case, sounds like the "small group of people" who spoke out in frustration over the lack of conclusive video footage must have been loud enough.

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