Fort Worth Police on Friday took another big step in documenting high-profile incidents and interactions with the public.
The 26 recruits graduating as part of academy class #134 will be the first recruits to be issued on-officer cameras. The cameras are worn on an officer’s glasses or on his or her shoulder. Before Friday the program was only voluntary among officers.
With the 26 new officers being issued the cameras, the department will now have 144 officers with the cameras. The new officers are being trained on how to use the cameras next week. Fort Worth Police said they have had more volunteers than they have cameras. The department also said it has more cameras in use than any other agency in North Texas.
“We want everyone to understand, in a global perspective, what the officer was actually seeing during a split-second decision that could be second-guessed for years,” Chief Jeffrey Halstead said. “I think this is going to be very, very valuable for a lot of citizens to understand the view point in that split-second.”
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Chief Halstead said the field vision of the cameras may not always be perfect, but he said it’s necessary for the public to continue their trust in the department and the cameras will do that.
“We want a clear, distinct record of what occurred,” Halstead said. “This technology brings us closer to that.”
Chief Halstead said that in an officer’s first three to seven years on the job they’re almost guaranteed to end up in a “high-liability” situation. That’s part of the reason why graduating recruits will be the first to be issued the cameras and not have to volunteer. He also said younger officers are more apt at adjusting to and handling the technology.
Fort Worth police announced the plan to add 145 of the AXON Flex cameras back in August, just months after a high-profile incident where the cameras would have shed light on exactly what happened.
On May 28, two Fort Worth officers, both in their first year on the force, responded to a burglary call on Havenwood Lane in east Fort Worth.
Officer Alex Hoeppner and Officer Ben Hanlon -- who has since been fired for his actions in another incident -- responded to the wrong home. They encountered home owner Jerry Waller, 72, near his garage in his home. Waller, according to the officers, pointed a weapon at the officers and refused to lower it. Hoeppner, according to radio transmissions, opened fire and killed Waller.
The case is still pending before a Tarrant County Grand Jury.
While Halstead didn’t address that specific incident, he said the cameras will help answer questions in controversial incidents where the investigations could take months or longer.