Fort Worth police say body cams will 'spotlight the truth'



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Posted on February 3, 2014 at 8:18 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 3 at 9:25 PM

Should police be required to record their activities on video?

FORT WORTH — The video shows a Fort Worth police officer open her car door and quickly draw her weapon. It's the end of a nine-mile, 70 mph pursuit through red lights and stop signs. The officer screams at the driver: "Raise your hands! Raise your hands!"

The suspect puts his hands behind his head and kneels. The officer knows nothing of the man, other than his capacity for high risk and bad judgment.

A small camera clipped to the officer's uniform lets everyone judge the outcome. The suspect is peacefully taken into custody.

Fort Worth police were just months away from widespread deployment of body cams when Officer RA Hoeppner shot 72-year-old Jerry Waller inside his own garage.

"In Hoeppner's case, if he had had that camera on, we wouldn't have the conflict going on in the city that we have right now," said his attorney, Jim Lane.

Lane says forensic evidence supports the officer’s account of what happened — that homeowner Jerry Waller first put down his own pistol, but then picked it up and aimed it as the officer approached to get the gun.

Lane said video would remove lingering doubts. "The evidence in Hoeppner's case showed that when he fired one of those rounds, he was actually shooting at that weapon. Because it went in [Waller's] hand and came out his elbow," Lane said.

"We will not go through another tragedy like this,” said Fort Worth Police Chief Jeff Halstead. 'We want that clear, on-site digital video to get an understanding. What was said? What was done? What were the movements? What were the actions?"

Chief Halstead wants his department to lead the way on body cam video. There are 145 cameras already in the field with a goal to add 500 more within the next year.

Plans are to outfit all patrol officers within two to three years.

Recording what happens — from simple goodwill gestures like jump-starting cars and handing out water — to more dramatic challenges.

One body cam video obtained by News 8 shows an officer talking to a man he found ready to jump to his death from a bridge across the South Freeway.

"We'll take you straight to the doctor," said the officer, who sat down at a distance from the man, and talked to him for several minutes.

Slowly, the man in the video is seen moving toward the officer, choosing life.