California Forum

Another View: Time for the Legislature to act on body camera funding for police

Body cameras for law enforcement should not be limited to those communities that can afford them, Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo writes, especially when low-income communities are more likely to need this technology.
Body cameras for law enforcement should not be limited to those communities that can afford them, Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo writes, especially when low-income communities are more likely to need this technology. Los Angeles Times file

When we talk about the highly emotional and hotly debated topic of law enforcement’s use of deadly force and body-worn cameras, many questions arise. However, one fundamental question seems to be overlooked: How can California provide funding to purchase body cameras? (“A lost opportunity on police reform”; Editorials, June 7)

In January, I introduced Assembly Bill 65 to create a statewide grant program to help law enforcement agencies purchase, implement and maintain body camera programs. Unfortunately, AB 65 was held in the Appropriations Committee last month, effectively killing the bill.

I was extremely disappointed with the outcome, and it made me question the state’s priorities. The bill passed out of the Public Safety Committee with unanimous, bipartisan support and had the strong support of the California Police Chiefs Association and the Peace Officers Research Association of California. So why wouldn’t the state and the Legislature desire such a measure? Was it cost?

I later learned the bill was killed because it was deemed too expensive, but the funding source could have been adjusted to reduce costs.

After hearing this excuse, I too wanted another review. Several legislators and I submitted a letter to the Budget Committee, expressing support for providing funding to create a grant program for local law enforcement agencies to implement or expand existing body camera programs. Although some funding has been included for the CHP, it is unclear whether funding will be available for police officers.

By helping departments across the state finance and deploy body cameras, we can begin to gather the experience and data needed to develop best practices around their use. Body cameras are the future of law enforcement in California, and Assembly Bill 65 would have been a win-win.

Several police chiefs told me that if funding were available for body cameras, they would immediately implement a program.

A recent report by the Community Oriented Policing Services and the Police Executive Research Forum found that body cameras strengthen accountability and transparency for law enforcement and the public, and that officers and civilians act in a more positive manner when they are aware that a camera is present.

Body cameras should not be limited to those communities that can afford them – especially when low-income communities are more likely to need this technology. Not providing cameras to communities that desire the latest technological advances in public safety is a disservice. As legislators, it is our job to represent, protect and provide for our constituency. Not approving Assembly Bill 65 is contrary to this belief.

Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo, D-Watsonville, is chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

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