A worrying detail emerged last week as Gregg County Commissioners accepted PCT’s resignation. 2 Constable Billy Fort is that Fort did not have video recording equipment installed in his vehicle and did not use a body camera.
The reason, as Sheriff Maxey Cerliano explains, is that police officers, as elected officials in Gregg County, have the power to decide whether they will use such devices. (While the state does not require law enforcement to use recording equipment, Gregg County has chosen to do so for its MPs.)
For the sake of accountability and safety, we urge Gregg County to adopt a policy requiring recording equipment for vehicles as well as body cameras for all law enforcement, including its four officers.
Fort was arrested in October and pleaded guilty on November 18 to driving his county vehicle while intoxicated. He submitted his resignation letter and permanently relinquished his peace officer license as part of his plea deal.
Cerliano said during Monday’s meeting of commissioners that Fort was the only police officer who chose not to use recording equipment. He also said he couldn’t say why Fort chose not to.
The sheriff added that the absence of this equipment did not affect Fort’s arrest by Longview Police or the subsequent trial. And maybe it is.
But it raises questions about Fort’s accountability during his long tenure (he began his sixth term in January).
Officers are licensed peace officers and, while their duties include the execution of warrants, subpoenas and temporary restraining orders, they may also make arrests and perform other duties of the police. ‘law application.
This means that they interact with the audience every day and these interactions must be recorded.
Audio and video recordings increase the safety and accountability of both parties. The public is protected against the abuse of power by the police. Officers are protected from false accusations which lead to prosecution and possibly even more serious legal problems.
Gregg County should look to its neighbor to the west for an example of why law enforcement recording equipment should be mandatory.
A Smith County agent and two of his deputies are accused of stealing numerous items while serving an eviction notice on Tyler, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported. In the January incident, court documents show the trio believed they turned off their body cameras as they searched the house, but one of the suspects did the opposite.
Despite their efforts to the contrary, those officials who should serve the public will likely be convicted in this case because of the liability provided by their recording devices.
(As a side note, a new Texas law will, in theory, prevent law enforcement from ending recordings on their devices during an investigation. Botham Jean Law requires officers with body cameras to keep them on.
The law is named after the 26-year-old Dallas man who was killed in September 2018 by Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger. Guyger said she mistook her apartment for Jean’s and believed he was an intruder, which led to her shooting. She was then sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder.)
Gregg County Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo was right when he expressed his support at an April 2020 meeting for officers with in-vehicle cameras:
“I think it protects us from liability, and it protects someone on the side of the road over there… if it comes down to (an officer’s) word versus (a defendant’s) word. “
Requiring mandatory equipment for all law enforcement in the county is a common sense approach to protecting everyone involved.