Monday, August 29, 2016
[San Mateo County] San Mateo cops to get body cams: City Council agrees with civil grand jury, implementation coming soon
Wearing San Mateo’s blue could come with some new technological accessories after the City Council gave a nod for the police department to investigate a body-worn camera program.
The San Mateo Police Department had preliminary discussions about the devices for years, and is now proceeding after a recent San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report recommended agencies without such equipment consider gearing up.
As part of its response to the report, this month the San Mateo City Council formally directed its department to begin developing policies and an implementation plan. Police Capt. Dave Norris said while there are a variety of factors that need to be fleshed out — from issues concerning public privacy to personnel and hardware costs — the department is firmly supportive of creating a timely program.
“Because we live in a time right now where incidents involving the police are subject to a rapid magnification by the media, this is the right time for us to move forward and be as transparent as possible and as accountable as possible to our community, and our public. And for those reasons, really from the top to the bottom of our organization we are excited and enthusiastic about moving to body-worn video,” Norris said.
Staff plans to return to the City Council with a proposal by the grand jury’s late November timeline, and have a program up and running in fall of 2017.
Yet there remains a litany of details to consider, experts with whom to consult, best practices to review and policies to develop in the coming months, Norris said.
Currently, Foster City, Belmont, Hillsborough, Menlo Park and Atherton have deployed body-worn cameras. Norris said San Mateo will be consulting with local agencies, national experts and investigating what type of program will be uniquely appropriate for the city.
“We want to make sure everyone from the officers who are turning on these cameras to the administrators who are managing the liability of this, … that everyone has some universal accord as best we can with what the best policy is going to be,” Norris said. “So we’re taking in experiences of different agencies, we want to know what’s working and what’s not.”
Developing sound policy will be key, he emphasized. Considerations will include when the cameras would be turned on, what to do about maintaining the privacy of passersby or unrelated license plates caught on camera, whether it’s appropriate to record confidential victims and how long the department should keep recordings.
Norris said how the data would be stored is being explored, and regulations about who should have access need to be determined. And of course, they’ll have to decide what type of equipment to purchase.
With about 117 sworn police officers and best practices currently suggesting each have their own camera assigned to them, Norris said they will likely consider between 100 and 130 apparatus.
Costs vary greatly based on the camera and Norris said he wasn’t yet able to provide a cost estimate. He noted policy decisions will also influence the expense of the program. For example, the more data stored or the number of public records act requests the department receives, could heavily influence the associated personnel costs, Norris said.
Part of the reason the department postponed acting on implementing a program was to wait and see the results of larger cities implementing body-worn cameras, such as in San Francisco and San Jose. There may also be state or even federal regulations, if not mandates, in the coming years requiring police to consider such programs, he noted.
City personnel from various departments, such as police, information technology and the attorney’s office, will be weighing in on how San Mateo frames its program in the coming months. Emphasizing nothing is set in stone, Norris added they would likely try a pilot program in advance of a full-scale implementation next year.
With national incidents highlighting racial as well as social tensions between various communities and law enforcement, Norris said San Mateo is prepared to implement a program that could benefit the public and officers alike.
“Throughout our department we are in support of implementing body-worn video,” Norris said. “We think it will not only serve as a benefit to us, we are looking forward to the opportunity for our officers to have a tool that holds the people we come into contact with accountable to their actions, holds our officers accountable to their actions, and provides a documentation resource of the great job our officers do every day.”
August 29, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Samantha Weigel