Soapbox

All CHP officers should be equipped with body cameras

A Los Angeles police officer wears a body camera during a demonstration. Mayor Eric Garcetti has unveiled a plan to equip every officer with a body camera. A state lawmaker says California Highway Patrol officers should have them, too.
A Los Angeles police officer wears a body camera during a demonstration. Mayor Eric Garcetti has unveiled a plan to equip every officer with a body camera. A state lawmaker says California Highway Patrol officers should have them, too. Associated Press file

In light of the recent police brutality scandals in Missouri, New York and even California, it is clear that policymakers must take immediate and definitive action to ensure the safety of citizens and restore faith in law enforcement.

That’s why I firmly believe it is crucial that California lawmakers unite to support a new plan that turns to modern technology for a solution. We should require all California Highway Patrol officers to wear video cameras.

As a state assemblyman and chairman of the California Legislative Black Caucus, it is my duty to advocate for solutions to address the widespread concerns about police misconduct. While it is commendable that local municipalities such as Los Angeles are actively advancing the idea that all of its police officers should be required to wear video cameras, I firmly believe that policy must also be expanded to the state level.

To accomplish this, I plan to work across partisan lines to develop support around two key bills currently being discussed in the Capitol: Assembly Bill 65 by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, and AB 66 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego.

While these bills won’t eradicate racial bias or eliminate instances of police brutality, by requiring all CHP officers to wear body cameras, they will help shed some much needed light on police-civilian interactions. Ideally, the implementation of these policies will serve as a model for other states and encourage policymakers to begin comprehensive nationwide reform.

Body cameras are a common-sense idea that should win bipartisan support. Although AB 65 and AB 66 are still works in progress and are by no means the cure-all strategy, they represent a first step in tackling the issue of police brutality and should be part of a larger conversation about how we can best address social injustices, reform our criminal justice system and restore trust in our public servants.

The cameras cost about $400 to $600 per officer. With the 6,500 officers CHP employs, the total would be $3 million to $4 million with an additional $6 million for data storage and maintenance. Considering how much lawsuits can cost – and the even more devastating cost of lost public trust – body cameras are an investment worth making.

Recently, community activists spoke out at a town hall meeting to express their concerns about the unintended results of requiring police officers to wear video cameras. Their concerns about who would have access to and control of the video footage are valid and should be addressed in earnest. I plan to discuss these issues in depth with fellow policymakers and find effective solutions.

It is my hope that compelling CHP officers to wear body cameras will increase the transparency of law enforcement practices and aid in eliminating uncertainty when witness accounts and police reports conflict. The goal here is to not only improve relations between police officers and civilians, but also to protect both parties from cases of abuse.

There is only a small fraction of officers who violate protocol, abuse their power or use excessive force; this policy only targets the “bad apples.” I have nothing but the utmost respect for officers who constantly risk their lives to uphold the law and keep our neighborhoods safe. These proposals will decidedly strengthen honest officers.

In the coming months, I plan to collaborate with Alejo and Weber, along with others in the Legislature, to build support for a comprehensive camera plan that requires minimum taxpayer money and has maximum impact on public safety.

Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, represents the 59th Assembly District and is chairman of the California Black Legislative Caucus and chairman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety.

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