Should Local Police Wear Cameras? City Panel Seeks Information

Although the possible use of so-called body-worn cameras by local police did not seem to emerge as a priority after a San Marino Public Safety Commission discussion this week, the panel did echo a law enforcement focus on upgrading current monitoring equipment at the very least.
The San Marino Police Department will work with the Public Works Department in identifying a “wish list,” according to SMPD Cmdr. Aaron Blondé, that will reflect the priority of bringing police cruiser dash-cams up to speed. The Public Safety Commission, curious about the technology, had asked police to provide more information on body-worn cameras before that list is submitted.
“Our interest is more general than specific,” commission chair Al Boegh said after Monday night’s discussion at City Hall. “I think it’s fair to say that we do not at this point have any opinion as to whether it’s required or not. It’s an informational conversation exclusively this evening. It’s primarily a matter of education.”
Body-worn cameras have become a key talking point in nationwide discussions on law enforcement reform, with some participants seeing them as tools to hold abusive officers accountable and others backing their use to curtail unfounded allegations against police. Complicating the discussion are both the upfront and long-term costs of using the devices and also determining policy on them — for example, whether they should constantly record video or only when officers respond to a call. The cameras can be prohibitively expensive for both large and small departments for that reason.
“[Other departments] know there are advantages to it, but the disadvantages are the cost, the amount of stuff they’d need to purchase and then the person to take care of it. How long you store it for is another issue,” Blondé said, adding that redacting and producing video for prosecutions or public records requests also take time. “You still need somebody to physically [handle] that, so there’s concerns there with resources or the person who would be doing that, whether they’d be part time, full time or would even have the availability for someone to do that.”
In terms of upfront cost, the department could purchase the equipment outright and then pay for record-keeping, but once warranties ran out it would be on the hook for replacement or repair costs. Under a rental agreement, the city would have to enter into a long-term payment plan, but with equally long warranties and — an important consideration — the need to acquire updated equipment every three years or so. Either way, the department would likely have to also hire another employee to maintain the data, in addition to its records manager.
“Her capacity’s already exceeded, to be quite honest,” Blondé said of that manager, noting he recently filled in for her and handled around 400 emails involving a single records request. “The amount of time it would take her to do that, in addition to what she already has, I don’t see how she would do it effectively.”
Commissioner Eugene Ramirez, an attorney who represents several Los Angeles-area law enforcement agencies, wondered aloud whether San Marino residents were clamoring for body cameras.
“Quite honestly, no,” Blondé said. “Nobody’s beating down the doors asking us where our body cameras are at.”
Ramirez also noted that data storage expenses were often enough to make his client agencies turn them down.
“The usefulness is not usually the issue,” Ramirez said. “It’s the storage costs that are astronomical. People don’t usually take that into consideration when they [want to] transfer to a body-worn camera program.”
Blondé said he ultimately believed it more prudent for the department to upgrade existing equipment that has fallen into disrepair or old age. Vehicle cameras capture wider angles of video, and mic boxes mounted on officers capture sound away from the vehicle that is recorded with the video. (That footage is currently stored in a local server but Blondé said he would prefer cloud-based storage.)
“I’m open to anything,” Blondé added, “but I would think that we wait a little bit longer and focus on what we have and making that work. We don’t have body-worn cameras yet and we need to make sure that what we have is working, and efficiently.”
In the meantime, Ramirez and Pete Loeffler, the commission’s liaisons to the SMPD, said they would arrange a meeting with their South Pasadena counterparts to gauge their opinion on their recent commitment to body-worn cameras.

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