Friday, June 23, 2017

[San Mateo County] Cops get body cams: San Mateo next in line to equip officers with video

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report recommending the use of body-worn cameras.
San Mateo police are gearing up to equip themselves with body-worn cameras as the department responds to an era when video evidence is increasingly demanded by the public, juries and the media.
The City Council voted Monday to purchase 110 cameras and subscribe to an online cloud-based storage service. Once the program is rolled out, people will be recorded while interacting with officers at traffic stops, when search warrants are executed, during any type of potential adversarial encounter, or if evidence is being gathered, said Police Chief Susan Manheimer.
She noted there are a variety of positives associated with recording most of their interactions from promoting transparency to encouraging people to be on their best behavior.
“There [are] so many important reasons why video has almost become expected. … It’s a sign of the times,” Manheimer said. “Frankly, it’s going to be one of the most important pieces of equipment.”
She noted the department went through a rigorous multi-disciplinary beta test of three vendors before opting for a five-year, $674,000 contract with Axon Enterprise, Inc. Each officer will be issued a camera that has the capacity to start recording up to 30 seconds before the officer even turns it on, Manheimer said.
With the rise in citizens’ recording incidents on cellphones, she noted it’s important for law enforcement to preserve evidence from the officers’ perspective as well.
“We know when police come on scene, many cellphones come out and others capture that video. It’s really vitally important that we capture video too,” she said.
Just this month, a woman who was confronted at gunpoint during what officers described as a “high-risk” traffic stop used her cellphone to record her boyfriend being placed in custody. Police said they were responding to a road rage report, but the woman said they’re now terrified after officers reacted to a false report of a gun.
In responding to the video that went viral, the department noted they followed protocol and the woman’s recording only provided a limited perspective of the incident.
“Probably once a week, we’ll see a video captured by someone in the public about us or other departments, and they may have been edited or taken out of context,” she said. “I’m just hoping we’ll have cameras that capture the officers perspective, because that’s an important part of the picture,” she said.
Manheimer noted her department is eager to adopt the technology that has become commonplace and highly valued.
“The currency of video in almost everything we do is so important now. Juries expect it, the public and the media feed off the video to really determine what happened in an incident and the officer oftentimes needs the evidence,” Manheimer said.
The move follows a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report recommending all local law enforcement agencies implement body-worn cameras. The jury’s report was triggered as tensions heightened following national incidents of violent encounters between police and civilians, many of which resulted in allegations of unnecessary force.
San Mateo will now joins the ranks of Belmont, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Atherton, South San Francisco and Burlingame, which all have or have recently approved the cameras.
During Monday’s meeting, Councilwoman Maureen Freschet noted she was confident the cameras would validate San Mateo officers were doing things the right way and for the right reasons.
“In some ways, it’s a little unfortunate that such a costly system has become a necessity in today’s society,” Freschet said, according to a live video of the meeting. “These are valuable tools that can help memorialize the interaction between the police and the community.”
Manheimer noted an extensive evaluation of best practices led the department to draft a policy that would include officers turning the cameras on in most situations. Medical calls or other sensitive encounters, such as interviews with victims, would not be recorded, she said. The recordings may be made available on a case-by-case basis through a California Public Records Act request, although she noted there are still unresolved legal issues as to what type of evidence can be released.
As part of the contract, Axon’s cloud-based storage system would be integrated and enable officers to upload other forms of digital evidence such as photos or reports into one system, she said.
Axon is a well-known vendor from which the department also purchases Tasers and the contract provides for the equipment to be upgraded as the technology progresses. At some point, the department may look to secure Tasers that are equipped with cameras. Officers will have a choice of whether they would like to wear the cameras on helmets, badges or lapels, she noted.
Officers will go through a rigorous training to ensure muscle memory makes turning the cameras on during a high-stress incident second nature. While noting it’s been a long time coming and they’re eager to use the technology, she also urged caution against public expectations.
“While body-worn cameras have amazing benefits, enhancing public trust and confidence, reducing complaints of misconduct, enhancing officer safety because people behave better on camera, strengthening transparency and better evidence collection; but it’s not a panacea,” Manheimer said. “When officer safety is threatened or the safety of the public, there may be times that it doesn’t get turned on. … And the public needs to understand that sometimes a video captures things that an officer doesn’t, and the officer sees things that the camera doesn’t pick up.”
June 23, 2017
The Daily Journal
By Samantha Weigel

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