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Houston Police Department to Receive $2M for Dash Cameras

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is expected to allocate an extra $2 million to purchase dash cameras for 143 police vehicles.

dash cam
Mayor Sylvester Turner will allocate an extra $2 million to purchase dash cameras for 143 police vehicles following a Houston Chronicle report about how some attorneys have concerns about the department's shortage of them.

Chief Troy Finner this week pushed back on some aspects of the report, arguing it didn't take into account the fact that undercover vehicles and some marked vehicles — such as those used for community affairs — aren't traditionally equipped with dash cameras.

But he praised the mayor's decision to add extra funding.

"We're not at 100 percent, but we're definitely moving in the right direction," Finner said at a news conference on July 6.

The Houston Police Department owns about 1,400 marked vehicles and 1,820 unmarked vehicles, according to department data. Of those, around 580 vehicles have been equipped with a dash camera, Finner said. And now, with the extra funding, he said, the department will install the technology in an extra 143 of them.

A department spokesperson previously explained to the Houston Chronicle that it costs about $15,000 per unit to install a three-camera system, but that the cost can sometimes be reduced with large orders.

Brandon Ball, an attorney with the Harris County Public Defender's Office, said the cost per unit seemed high.

The lack of dash cameras can create legal challenges for residents who have run-ins with police, Ball explained. Police can't conduct searches without a warrant in many cases, but there are a range of situations in which the law does grant officers the ability to conduct a warrantless search, such as if they smell the odor of marijuana during a traffic stop, Ball said. Officers often use a traffic stop as probable cause to pull over a person they suspect of something more serious than violating traffic laws, he said.

But a legal doctrine, called "fruit of the poisonous tree," makes all evidence inadmissible in court if it comes from a search that wasn't legal, Ball said. If a defense attorney had access to dashboard camera video, they could determine whether the initial stop had been justified. It would give defendants an extra measure to hold police accountable.

The Houston Police Department's general fund budget could break the $1 billion mark next year under Mayor Turner's proposed spending plan, but more than 90 percent of that budget is allocated for staffing its roughly 5,200 officers, 880 support personnel and 140 cadets.

Finner said it's hard to budget for technological improvements when so much goes toward staffing, but staff funding is important to stay competitive in the world of law enforcement.

(c)2023 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.