Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland is asking City Hall for $8 million to equip 3,500 police officers over three years in order to arm HPD officers with small body cameras in a bid toward police transparency.
The push for department-wide body cameras is an expansion on a pilot program that began last year, in which 100 HPD officers were fitted with the devices during the test run. The so-called body cameras clip to the front of officers' uniform shirts and are capable of recording both video and audio of police encounters while on duty.
While HPD patrol cars are already equipped with dash cams, the body cameras will "improve accountability and transparency," according to McClelland, and are more likely to record the interactions between officers and residents.
But while body cameras appear to be a simple approach to improving transparency, the funding needed for the program -- $8 million in all -- may not be quite as easily accessible.
The $88 million dollar police budget approved by City Council over the summer did not include the $8 million necessary to fund the initiative, and $3.3 million is needed to buy the first 1,400 cameras this year.
And while Mayor Parker and the City Council confirm that they are on board with the cameras, neither party has clear answers as to where the funds will come from -- yet.
"Body cameras can be useful in documenting the actions of police and the public," Mayor Parker said in a statement. "I support expanding the pilot project, and we are attempting to identify an appropriate funding source."
There are a certainly a number of reasons why more police transparency is important, but we've dug up a few that should top that list. Here are the five reasons HPD needs to be given funding for body cameras.
Blake Pete On Christmas Day 2011, 24-year-old Blake Pete was shot and killed by HPD Sergeant Curtis Hampton after crashing his car into a tree at the 9300 block of Tidwell by the Lakecrest Village apartments.
Pete exited his car, appearing disoriented from the accident, according to witnesses. Sergeant Hampton attempted to stop him from leaving the scene and a tussle ensued, in which Pete ended up on his back.
According to HPD, Hampton, fearing for his life, reached for his gun and fired between five and six shots. Three of those shots hit Pete, who died on the side of the road.
Pete was unarmed during the incident, and toxicology tests showed that Pete had no alcohol or drugs in his system. Sergeant Hampton was not indicted in the incident.
Brian Claunch In 2012, 45-year-old Brian Claunch, an unarmed mentally ill double-amputee in a wheelchair, was shot and killed by HPD Officer Matthew Marin outside of the Healing Hands Assisted Home Care center, where he was living.
A caretaker at the home called police after Claunch became aggressive, and Officer Marin was one of the responding officers. According to reports, Claunch cornered one of the responding officers and waved a sharp object at him. Marin then shot Claunch in the head in order to protect his partner, according to police.
The sharp object Claunch was holding turned out to be a ballpoint pen. John Garcia, the owner of the assisted care facility, told reporters that Claunch liked to draw. Officer Marin was cleared of wrongdoing in the incident.
Eli Eloy Escobar, Jr In 2003, 14-year-old Eli Escobar was shot in the head by HPD Officer Arthur Carbonneau, who was responding with a fellow officer to a minor disturbance between two boys in Escobar's neighborhood.
The officers found Escobar and his friend playing computer games at a nearby apartment on Mangum. When Escobar, who had not been involved in the incident, tried to leave, Carbonneau tried to restrain him and ended up shooting him in the head.
According to Eli's friend, he was pinned to the ground and crying for his mother in the moments before he was shot and killed. The teenager was unarmed during the incident.
Rufino Lara In 2012, Rufino Lara was fatally shot by HPD Officer J. McGowan after refusing to comply with the officer's commands after she saw him walking away while she was investigating an assault.
Officer McGowan stated that she told Lara to stop in both English and Spanish, but he refused. Lara kept one of his hands tucked under his shirt during the incident, according to McGowan, and when he turned around suddenly with his hand still under his shirt, McGowan shot him and killed him.
Two witnesses dispute the officer's account, however. Florida Ruvio, one of the witnesses and a family friend, bumped into Lara on his way back from a liquor store near the 7000 block of Bissonnet near Fondren in southwest Houston. Lara told her that some men were chasing him with a knife and asked her to call police.
Ruvio stated that Lara, who did not speak English, did not comply with the officer's requests to stop and raise his hands the first time because they were only spoken to him in English. Ruvio also stated that Lara did not have his hands under his shirt.
Lara eventually stopped and stood against the wall with his hands up, according to Ruvio, and when he turned to face officers -- still with his hands up -- he was shot and killed. Ruvio was unarmed during the incident.
Steve Guidry In February 2010, HPD officer Brenton Green pulled over 45-year-old Steven Guidry near his home in southwest Houston after he failed to signal a turn.
Police said Guidry refused to get out of his car and appeared to "reach into his waistband as if to get a weapon." There was a struggle as Officer Green attempted to arrest Guidry, which led to the officer shooting Guidry in the neck.
Guidry was unarmed during the incident.
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