A handful of Sacramento patrol officers will begin wearing body cameras this month and all should have them by September under a plan the City Council passed Tuesday night.
The Sacramento Police Department will purchase 750 cameras for all patrol staff, as well as 70 cameras for training, 50 shared units for officers with occasional contact with the public and 20 spares under a five-year, $4 million agreement approved by the Council. The city will buy the cameras from Taser International, the company best known for its yellow-tipped electric stun guns.
All patrol officers are expected to be wearing them by September, according to police spokesman Bryce Heinlein. The city plans to have 28 cameras on officers by the end of March.
Councilman Allen Warren, who pursued changes in police practices last year after high-profile fatal shootings, said the cameras would provide a new layer of trust and accountability between the police and the community.
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“I think if worn the way they are intended to be they can be very effective,” Warren said. “They provide an actual audio and video of the occurrences when they are happening and it’s a valuable piece of information.”
Officers have discretion to turn cameras off in specific circumstances such as to protect victims’ privacy, according to the department’s general orders. They will also be able to review body camera footage at any time. That includes before they give statements regarding critical incidents, such an officer-involved shooting, and before writing reports or testifying in court, according to the police department’s rules.
Catherine Wagner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California, called that approach “extremely problematic,” saying that showing police officers footage of an incident can alter what they remember and could cause people to question whether officers tailored their statements to reflect what was shown in the video.
She said that many police departments have elected to have officers make a statement prior to viewing the video with the ability to make changes to their reports without penalty after seeing the footage.
A call to the union that represents local police officers was not returned.
Body camera footage would fall under an existing ordinance mandating its release to the public within 30 days of critical incidents, unless the police chief is granted a waiver by the city council.
Locally, all officers working in the Auburn and Rocklin police departments are also required to wear cameras, according to spokesmen from both departments. Rocklin’s use of cameras has drawn recent scrutiny after three officers involved in a fatal shooting failed to activate their cameras prior to the incident.
The contract before City Council also includes costs to store footage for 18 months. That would be the standard period for keeping video unless the footage is part of an ongoing investigation.
The first batch of cameras would go to bike and motorcycle officers. Those officers would conduct a “testing phase,” said Heinlein, to make sure the system is working. More officers would begin wearing cameras in May as equipment becomes available from Taser.
Storage on an ongoing basis is expected to cost about $1 million per year.
The city would rely on a federal grant and Measure U sales tax revenues to cover just over $1 million of the first-year costs for the cameras. Measure U funds are also available to cover about $325,000 of second-year costs. But the remaining $875,000 of second-year costs and an ongoing $1 million in annual storage costs would need to come from the city’s general fund.
The city also would hire three full-time police employees to handle technology issues, including editing of video such as facial blurring when footage is released to the public.
The police department tested various cameras before selecting Taser. Cameras were tested by gang enforcement officers, bike patrols, K9 units and officers responding to Shotspotter calls, a microphone technology used to detect gun shots. Those pilot programs have ended and no Sacramento officers are wearing body cameras at the moment.
The department began considering body cameras in late 2014 following national uproar over the officer-involved fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the death of Eric Garner, 48, who died after a New York City police officer put him into a chokehold.
The Sacramento Police Department was granted almost $600,000 by the United States Department of Justice the following year to develop and implement a body camera program.
Last year, the officer-involved shooting of Joseph Mann, a mentally ill man who witnesses say was acting erratically and holding a knife, in north Sacramento sparked a renewed push for transparency within the Sacramento Police Department. Video footage of the shooting released by the department showed officers attempted to run Mann over with their car seconds before they shot and killed him.