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Bexar County Commissioners approve body camera upgrades, new Tasers

Bexar County Courthouse
Paul Flahive
/

Funding for body cameras, Tasers

Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $3 million upgrade for body cameras and Tasers for deputies. The vote came after debate over a commissioners' mandate for video releases.

Sheriff Javier Salazar told commissioners the upgrades will help his department meet the commissioners' 10-day mandate for videos to be released when use of force is involved during encounters with the public.

The upgrades will allow for videos to be processed faster, said department officials.

Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores was among those to vote for the upgrades, but she exacted a promise from the sheriff to release such videos in a timely manner after showing them to family members first.

"Assuming that we pass this technology, then you are committed, assuming we can reach the families first, to approve the 10-day policy," asked Clay-Flores of
the sheriff.

"Yes," the sheriff replied.

The cameras automatically roll at scenes when weapons come out.  

Simone Coleman — whose friend Damian Daniels was shot to death by a Bexar County deputy in 2020 during a mental health call — was all for the upgrades as long as the sheriff would release videos in a timely manner.

"As long as they can do the same thing that Dallas does and turnover body cam footage in 72 hours. Or let's say Austin that does it in 10 days or even better. Let's say that my 13-year-old daughter and her classmates can edit that footage themselves and have it to you in 24 hours," she said. 

A grand jury declined to indict a deputy involved in the shooting of Daniels.

Sheriff Salazar told commissioners he could likely implement the 10-day policy in 120 days, but Clay-Flores suggested 60 days. The sheriff said he did not want to
overpromise to the court on implementation.

Commissioner Tommy Calvert told the court that in the last two years, there have been 21 incidents between deputies and the public that meet the criteria for body cameras to have been rolling.  He also questioned the need for the new spending on body cameras. He said the current system had the capabilities needed to meet the ten-day mandate. Calvert added the money might be better spent on other needs of the sheriff's department.

The upgrade also comes with new Tasers. Salazar reports 85% of those Tasers currently in-use by deputies are at end-of-life and could malfunction during critical moments.

Ameican Recovery Plan Act funding

In other action on Tuesday, commissioners heard from a task force on behavioral health and criminal justice on how to best spend funding from the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) on areas of concern.

Commissioners were urged by the local experts to spend the funding on helping those with substance abuse issues, which have grown more dire during the pandemic. They also recommended more treatment space for minors with mental health and substance abuse issues and an increase in the number of mental health providers. There are waiting lists for up to two years to see a local psychiatrist, said Jenni Lord, CEO of Chosen Care.

One expert told commissioners the county is crowded in part by inmates held on low level violations fueled by drug and alcohol problems.  Around 288 inmates deemed mentally incompetent are awaiting acceptance into state institutions.

Commissioner Justin Rodriguez told commissioner's court the local demand for funding is way above previous funding considerations they have made.

"We had earmarked preliminarily somewhere between $25-30 million to go to behavioral health. I will tell you when I look at the list of ARPA applicants from our non-profit partners, there's about 25 or so and those requests alone total about $122 million," he said.

Rodriguez directed staff to comeback with recommendations within two weeks to 30 days on how to best match funding requests from those non-profits.

March 1 primary preparation

Commissioners also heard an update on preparations for the joint March 1 primaries from Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen.

She told commissioners fewer mail-in ballot applications are being rejected with voters providing both the last four digits of their social security numbers and drivers license numbers on applications.

New polling locations are being found to replace those where voters and COVID-19 testers or vaccinators would have crossed paths. Callanen also told commissioners it is already time to make plans for May 7 elections, mandated by the state, but with no state funding. She said 23 local entities may have items on the ballot, including the City of San Antonio bond vote, and bond votes from the Northside and Comal Independent School Districts.

Commissioners on Tuesday also:

  • Accepted $18 million as a new share of the state's opioid lawsuit.  County officials have said any monies from companies won by the state will be applied to local substance abuse treatment.
  • Formally adopted the new five-year union contract with the Bexar County Deputy Sheriff's Association that includes a raise of 15% over it first few years. It also comes with new civilian oversight of deputies and tougher disciplinary teeth for deputies who violate department policy, like turning off their body cameras. It also allows for misbehavior by deputies to be considered for disciplinary action for up to two years after discovery, instead of the previous 180 days.
  • Approved a $2.1 million contract for a contractor to provide security for 23 county facilities.
  • Recognized the Greenies Urban Farm Team as the recipient of the 2022 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Superior Service Award.  The county's urban farm backed by County Judge Nelson Wolff and Commissioner Tommy Calvert is capable of producing fresh produce for some underserved areas of the county.  Expansion plans are underway to make the East Side farm easier accessed by the public and for educational purposes.
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