FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – On May 23, 2013, 72-year old Jerry Waller woke up to noises outside his home and went out to investigate. He was shot and killed by Fort Worth police officers who were responding to a burglary. Turns out they were at the wrong home. Another twist to the story — Waller had a gun.
His widow, Kathy Waller, doesn’t dispute that, but she’s still frustrated with how things happened that night.
“I’m very disgusted. I know not all policemen are like this, but it’s just disheartening for what happened to our family,” she told CBS 11 News back in 2013.
Both sides disagree on the events of that night. But one thing they do agree on is that this could have been cleared up much sooner had the officers responding been wearing body cameras.
Last summer’s events in Ferguson, Missouri pushed the use of body cameras into the spotlight. It became a must-have in police departments around the country. And while there’s little doubt body cameras have helped both police officers and the public, new questions are being raised on the price and the use of these cameras.
CBS 11 News I-Team investigative reporter Mireya Villarreal found out some cameras are costing $900 nearly a piece. And then, there are rules that need to be followed.
A few months after Waller’s death, the Fort Worth Police Department spent $670,000 for 145 body cameras and a service contract with Taser International.
Little Elm Police Chief Waylan Rhodes says body cameras are an important tool for law enforcement. “They’re important because they go beyond a car video,” Rhodes explained.
By law, video evidence recorded by police has to be kept on the server for 90 days. If a case goes to trial, video evidence is kept for years.
That concerns cities like Little Elm because it increases the price tag on these cameras. Storing the video and making someone available to field data requests only makes things harder, Rhodes noted, “Server space is definitely a concern there. It’s an expensive endeavor to have.”
Meanwhile, 50 miles away, the DeSoto Police Department has been using body cameras for about six years now. “They’re an invaluable tool for us at the DeSoto Police Department,” Chief Joseph Costa said.
The department has decided to spend $36,000 to lease these cameras for three years. It plans to spend more than $15,000 on a new server to store videos, along purchasing other equipment like cables and clips.
On top of the cost, DeSoto police has worked hard on the department’s policy for using the cameras.
Chief Rhodes said there are strict policies officers have to use in the field, but ultimately, turning the cameras on or off is left at the officer’s discretion, “We give them the ability to make split second decisions. This camera’s just another component of the resources and tools that they have.”
The DeSoto policy states that the cameras will be on for all traffic, pedestrian and investigative stops. They will also film during family violence and controversial calls, interviews and interrogations.
Sen. Royce West of Dallas has filed a bill that would require all police departments to be equipped with these body cameras, but he hasn’t worked out the details on how the gear would be paid for.
Chief Costa supports the idea, but warns it’s not the solution to every problem.
“It’s not going to solve those excessive use of forces,” he says. “It’s not going to solve those rude complaints. People are still going to be people. Police officers are still going to be police officers.”