Police to use hand-held cameras in domestic cases

RAYMONDVILLE — A new tool is expected to help police and prosecutors crack down on domestic violence.

The Willacy County District Attorney’s Office and the Raymondville Police Department will work with 15 hand-held cameras to document cases of domestic violence at the crime scene, District Attorney Bernard Ammerman said yesterday.

The district attorney’s office applied to the Texas Council on Family Violence for a $7,363 Governor’s Office grant used to purchase the cameras.

“It’s going to make evidence-collection and prosecution a lot better,” Ammerman said. “These cameras are going to take pictures and videos of everything going at the crime scene. They’re going to be used for evidence-collection (after) the time crime occurs.”

Photographing and videotaping victims at the crime scene makes it more likely authorities can take the cases to court, Ammerman said.

Currently, he said, police departments interview victims at the crime scene before asking them to be available for follow-up interviews.

“A lot of times the victim won’t come back,” Ammerman said.

Too often, he said, victims change their stories to protect their attackers.

“By collecting evidence at crime scenes, there’s less of a chance the victims could be coerced by the suspect,” Ammerman said. “We want to be able to get the truth so we can help these people.”

The hand-held cameras offer lawmen new “forensic” tools, said Aaron Setliff, public policy director for the Council on Family Violence.

Police body cameras, Setliff said, may not produce quality recordings.

“With the video camera evidence, offenders are more likely to plead guilty and to do so earlier on in the criminal justice process, helping to increase his supervision and helping the victim move forward more quickly,” Setliff stated in an email.

Ammerman said the Council on Family Violence will provide training on the use of the cameras to members of his department and Raymondville police officers later this month.

Authorities will be using the cameras by the end of the month, he said.

“It’s something new we want to try,” Police Chief Uvaldo Zamora said. “It’s a good project. It’ll have a good, positive impact.”

In Willacy County, as many as 30 percent of misdemeanor cases stem from domestic violence, Ammerman said.

“When you look at the overall scheme, that’s a lot,” he said. “Typically, it’s household-, family- or dating-related.”

Since 2009, Ammerman said, the seriousness of the crime has led him to assign a prosecutor to handle domestic violence cases.

Ammerman said the new cameras will help his office better prosecute domestic violence cases.

“I want to make sure when we take domestic violence cases to court, we have all the evidence,” he said.