Monday, November 7, 2016

[San Mateo County] South City cops eye body cams: Chief says equipment up for purchase could enhance department’s transparency

South San Francisco police may soon be required to wear body cameras mounted to uniforms recording their behavior while on duty, under a proposal to be considered by city officials.
The South San Francisco City Council will address a recommendation to spend $312,000 on purchasing body-worn camera systems for police officers during a meeting Wednesday, Nov. 2.
The technology has become increasingly popular across the nation as law enforcement agencies seek to address community concerns regarding transparency, and the South San Francisco police chief said he is hopeful the cameras will fortify the public’s trust in the department.
“We want to show our community that we are transparent and we are looking for whatever ways possible to provide them, and our officers, the best protection services,” said Police Chief Jeff Azzopardi.
The money, roughly $260,000 of which is already accounted for in the department’s annual budget or available grant funding, would pay toward the purchase of 45 body cameras and 26 cameras for police cruisers.
The department already has cameras installed in its vehicles, said Azzopardi, and law enforcement officials have been waiting to purchase body cameras which sync with the car devices.
Azzopardi said he believed officers’ familiarity with using the car cameras over the past seven years would make them more comfortable with using the surveillance systems attached to their uniforms.
“This is not something completely new and I think our officers are comfortable with the fact that you need to be transparent with the community,” he said.
Under approval by the council, cameras would be installed by the end of the year, followed by three months of training before the total implementation would be finished by the end of March, according to a city report.
In the wake of a series of violent confrontations between police and civilians occurring across the nation, some departments have taken to the cameras as a means of building confidence in their commitment to transparency.
But advocates for civil liberties have noted merely authorizing camera use is not tantamount to assuring law enforcement is committed to being more forthcoming, commonly citing inconsistencies regarding when the devices are used or difficulties associated with accessing potentially controversial footage.
Azzopardi though said it is too early to discuss the details of a potential policy in South San Francisco, as city officials and department union representatives are still in the process of negotiating how the devices will be used.
He said, ideally though, the body camera policy will mirror the use agreement already in place for car cameras. Talks have gone smoothly so far, said Azzopardi, as most department officers understand the benefits that can be offered by body cameras.
A recent San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report calling for adoption of body-worn cameras by the end of 2017 did influence the South San Francisco Police Department’s decision to move forward with the initiative, said Azzopardi.
“That sort of sped up our conversation,” he said of the grand jury report.
Currently, only police departments in Atherton, Belmont, Hillsborough, Foster City and Menlo Park use such cameras, according to the report, but South San Francisco joins departments in Daly City, East Palo Alto, Redwood City and San Mateo in exploring the technology.
“Body-worn cameras clearly state to the public that its police force has nothing to hide, that their encounters with the public are transparent and that these encounters are subject to internal and, when appropriate, external scrutiny,” according to the report.
Before the cameras are installed, the South San Francisco department plans to hold a series of community forums to inform residents about the proposal and receive feedback on the initiative.
Azzopardi said he believes officials and residents will thoroughly vet the technology, should the council approve the acquisition during the upcoming meeting.
“This is just step one,” he said. “There is going to be policy development and implementation and we are on our way, but first we need the council to approve this agreement.”
November 2, 2016
San Mateo Daily Journal
By Austin Walsh

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