A Facebook commenter on a Herald story about a false police brutality claim admitted Friday he had a change of heart after seeing body camera footage

“I stand corrected,” Leatrice Bubba Williams said. “That officer did nothing wrong. Even though I was on the fence about his claims of the body cam malfunctioning, I am glad the footage was recovered in order to fully clear his name.”

On New Year’s Eve, Harker Heights police officer Joshua Wood’s body camera malfunctioned while making an arrest in an ambulance bay outside Seton Medical Center. Though the body camera did not capture the incident, there was security footage that showed a wide angle of the incident. That was fortunate for Harker Heights police and the arresting officer, because shortly after, the woman he arrested accused him of police brutality.

Leah Nadia Dure filed a report against Wood. Last Tuesday, Harker Heights police Chief Mike Gentry held a press conference to discredit the claim. During it, he showed several video clips surrounding the incident, including footage of Dure inside the back of a police car, and inside the police department headquarters. But despite Wood following protocol and turning on his body camera, it malfunctioned. Video footage of nearly the entire incident was made public, except for the moment in which officers pulled Dure out of the SUV she was in, and placed her in handcuffs. Footage from inside the back of the police cruiser showed that she likely suffered her injuries before that moment, but there was still doubt among members of the community.

Then Friday afternoon, Harker Heights police Sgt. Steve Miller sent out a news release to local media outlets that announced the body camera footage had been recovered. The camera had been sent back to Coban, the manufacturer, to be analyzed. Less than a week later, the body camera footage was released to the public.

A push for body cams

With increased tensions between police departments and communities across the country, community groups are pushing for the use of body cameras in local police departments. They are not a perfect solution to issues that surround police departments and the justice system in today’s climate; the cameras are expensive, and don’t always provide adequate enough evidence. But although police officers may not always be in favor of them, the Dure incident proved that it can be a worthwhile tool for local departments to invest in.

After the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown — an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, who allegedly grabbed at the shooting officer’s gun during an altercation — there was a push for more use of video within police departments across America. President Barack Obama’s administration made a push for local departments to use the cameras. But despite an increase in the use of video footage by police, a clearer picture of what happened isn’t always provided.

The flaws surrounding police-worn body cameras have been widely publicized nationwide. In 2016, Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police Officer Blane Salamoni in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Salamoni and another officer began to scuffle with Sterling, and both of their body cameras fell off, leaving only bystander video footage and body camera footage from other police officers to be used in court. The cameras also must be turned on by police officers manually before they start recording footage.

Cams for HHPD

The Harker Heights City Council unanimously approved the purchase of 47 body cameras on June 15, 2016. With that purchase came a 28-terabyte server for video storage plus related docking/charging stations and accessories.

For the Heights police, it marked the second time that body cameras were put into use. The first was about 15 years ago, according to Gentry. However, the cameras were not high quality, and eventually broke.

The cameras were implemented in September 2017. In addition to the cameras already in use inside police cruisers and inside the police station’s booking area, the cameras provided an extra layer of fact documentation, Gentry said.

“We’ve had mobile video for way over 20 years,” Gentry said. “This isn’t anything new, it’s just a matter of getting used to it, how to manage them and how to download video and all that.”

Along with Harker Heights police, Temple, Belton and the Bell County Sheriff’s Department uses body cameras. Killeen and Copperas Cove police departments do not.

Costs of cams

The cameras are not cheap, and that has been a barrier for local police departments. Former Killeen police Chief Dennis Baldwin said in 2014 that he hoped to implement the use of body cameras by 2016. However, cuts to the budget and Baldwin’s transition from chief to interim city manager halted the process.

In Harker Heights, the department received funding for the cameras through a grant of more than $55,000 from the state and matching funds from the city of Harker Heights of nearly $14,000 for a total of about $69,800.

In the 84th Texas Legislative Session, there was an effort to make body cams mandatory across the state. That failed because there are so many departments that would not be able to meet that unfunded mandate.

“It’s a financial barrier for everybody, that’s universal. They’re expensive,” Gentry said. “We were in the same situation, where we had to balance it as other needs. As active as I am in the Texas Police Chief’s Association, money is an issue for everybody.”

The most expensive portion of the cameras is the storage needed to back up all the footage.

For the Killeen Police Department to outfit each patrol officer with a body camera at the price of $500 a camera, it would cost at least $66,500. That’s before the cost of a server.

But if Killeen can muster up the funds or find some grants that would aid in the purchase of body cameras, it could be worth it. Wood is a former military police officer in the U.S. Army, described as a “decorated Army veteran with numerous overseas deployments” by his boss, Gentry. He was hired by the department in January 2016, and has had no previous disciplinary history. And if it weren’t for the use of video surveillance, he could have potentially lost his job due to false allegations of brutality.

“When I find misconduct in my police department, I have handled it,” Gentry said in Tuesday’s news conference. “We will not discuss this any more unless there are further developments down the road.”

254-501-7552 | sullivan@kdhnews.com

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