Results from SDPD body-worn cameras
It’s reasonable to assume if the officer who shot Michael Brown had been wearing a body camera, the entire ordeal with Brown would have been recorded and it’s very likely that Ferguson, Missouri might have been spared the violence and unrest of the past few days. A growing number of police departments are testing body cameras, including San Diego and Chula Vista. Chula Vista has been testing body cameras for a couple of years now and, while the department hasn’t yet settled on a particular type of camera, the testing has provided invaluable information. The first thing the department learned about body cameras is that cameras are not the be all, end all to police misconduct issues – but they are certainly an important tool to discover the truth.
“When the officer makes the contact and they start talking with them, they can touch the button to turn on the recorder and it will actually go back 30-seconds prior and start from that point,” explained Captain Lon Turner of the Chula Vista Police Department. “It could lead to something that’s proactive, that would result in prosecution and we want to make sure we’ve got that evidence so we can supply that with the District Attorney’s office.”
For example, a Chula Vista patrol officer could be making a routine traffic stop and gets the driver’s consent to look in the trunk. And there, he could find eight kilos of cocaine and the case goes to the DA’s office.
“That’s one of the first questions they ask: was the officer wearing one of those body-worn cameras?”
The Chula Vista Police Department has been testing cameras with six patrol officers for nearly two years; the expectation is that complaints and use of force should decline.
“We’ve seen instances where people have made claims about police misconduct. Once they realize that behavior was recorded, they recant their statement.”
The plan is to have all 125 patrol officers wearing cameras sometime next year. San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman became chief in the wake of several scandals involving police misconduct. Her first priority was restoring the public trust, and body cameras a first start.
“I am in complete support of the body-worn cameras,” stated Zimmerman. “Maintaining the trust of our community is critically important.”
And part of that is not recording certain situations.
“If it’s for interviewing a child who’s a victim of child abuse, we wouldn’t record for that. Sex crimes – a victim of sexual assault, rape – we wouldn’t record for that.”
Or for obvious expectations of privacy, the recording won’t take place. The dynamics of a public – even one that may escalate into violence, not unlike the situation in Ferguson – can change if everybody is aware the cops are wearing body cameras.
“Everybody behaves better when they’re on camera – that goes for citizens and officers alike. When people know there’s a recording device out there, they are little bit better behaved.”
Body cameras are being tested in the inner city of San Diego central, southeast and the mid-city divisions at a cost of $1 million. The initiative will spread to other divisions in future budget years.