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An extra pair of eyes and ears Brownsville Police Department buys 140 body cameras

BY Andrea Torres | The Rider

As part of his daily routine, Brownsville Police Department Patrol Officer Felipe Cepeda patrols the Military Highway and Alton Gloor areas. For more than a month now, he has incorporated new technology to his assignment, a body camera.

“I turn it on before I make contact with the party I’m going to make contact [with],” Cepeda said.

He turns on the camera as soon as he exits the patrol vehicle and doesn’t turn it off until he is walking back to his patrol unit.

Cepeda is one of about 30 officers who have started wearing body cameras while on duty.

“This was an idea that the Chief [Orlando Rodriguez] had way before the incidents that occurred,” said J.J. Trevino, spokesman for the Police Department. “His idea was to find something where he can document family violence types of calls to record the witness statements or victim’s statement at the time the officer had made contact initially.”

Body cameras became a topic of interest after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown Jr. by a police officer on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. That same month, the Ferguson Police Department began wearing body cameras.

The next day a rally against the shooting took place in Ferguson and protests continued for several days.

The Brownsville Police Department took a year to study body cameras, and chose the Axon camera produced by Taser. The department has two types of cameras: One is a small, black clip-on box, which is worn on a patrol officer’s chest, and the other is on the helmet of the motorcycle officer.

“They are trained on how to turn them on and off,” Treviño said. “They don’t get to turn them off on their own. It has to be, basically, under the advisement of the supervisor.”

If an officer were to go to the scene of a sexual assault crime, for example, he or she would have to use his or her best judgment when approaching the victim and decide whether to stop recording, Treviño explained.

The department bought 14o body cameras within the last year.

There have been no incidents where the department needed to review the footage of the cameras, Treviño said.

“We are just starting and we are taking it slow because it’s obviously it’s a new thing,” he said. “Ultimately, hopefully, before the end of the year, we are hoping to have more officers wearing the body cameras.”

UTRGV Police Chief Raul Munguia said his department is not interested at this time in buying body cameras after testing some last year.

“We tested some but, so far, the ones we’ve tested they don’t last very long,” Munguia said. “They broke down. Those actually didn’t even last nine months. … I don’t have the budget to continue buying those things.”

The university has more than 350 security cameras throughout its campuses.

Munguia said the department does not have the budget to purchase more security cameras for the parking lots in Brownsville at this time, but it is working on consolidating the different brands and security systems in order to have one vendor who can repair them if they fail.

“We are also looking very closely at the new buildings that are coming up and making sure that we get the proper cameras,” he said. “We want to make sure that the systems that get installed in the new buildings are going to be compatible with what we’re trying to do.”

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