Inside SJPD Body Worn Cameras - eyes on the police and public

Accountability and transparency—the public demands these attributes from the police department. To meet these demands as well as help officers on calls, the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) has been deploying body-worn cameras to its patrol officers. The cameras provide more than recorded evidence of an incident, the fact that a event is being recorded tends to temper the behavior of both the residents and officers.

"Not only do people tend to behave better on camera," comments Lieutenant Elle Washburn, Commander of the Body Worn Camera unit, "I think it might also put individuals on both sides of the lens at ease a bit. They'll know that 'I’m OK because this is being recorded. And, if the encounter results in a complaint, then the video will speak for itself."

"There are so many layers to the Body Worn Cameras. It’s not just a technology project. It’s like no other piece of equipment we’ve ever issued to officers. There are professional and political implications in addition to the technology component." — Lieutenant Elle Washburn.
"When individuals have contact with the police, and their perception of what occurred differs from what the police department said occurred, then we're going to know what actually is the truth," — SJPD Chief of Police Eddie Garcia on the use of body worn cameras.

SJPD began researching the use of body worn cameras in 2013 as part of its adoption of technologies that enhance an officer's ability to professionally serve the public in a safe manner. The goal was to bring body worn cameras to SJPD and successfully have a full deployment. Internal SJPD staff and external community advisors (including the President of the NAACP and City Attorney's office) comprised committees that explored three areas: technical (IT and cloud storage), operations (end-user issues) and policy. The scope of the body worn cameras program is more than acquiring the cameras and learning to use them. It involves areas of privacy, the use of the video recordings and a myriad of legal issues. To address the issues, Lt. Elle Washburn led the drawing up of the SJPD Body Worn Camera Policy.

"This is a new technology for us," comments Lt. Washburn, "We're trying to write the best policy we can that represents our community and our department. That can be challenging, especially with concerns that are in discord with each other."

The SJPD Body Worn Camera policy is posted for the public to view. Since body worn camera usage is new, Lt. Washburn and others involved in the program know that the policy evolve as issues and situations dictate.

In the spring of 2016, Chief of Police Eddie Garcia mandated that all police officers including sergeants, lieutenants and captains wear cameras. An aggressive program was set up to make sure patrol officers were trained by the beginning of the City of San Jose's fiscal year. SJPD Academy Class 26, which graduated on August 12, 2016, was the first group of recruits to wear body worn cameras from day one of their patrol duties.

SJPD Academy Class 26 is first group of recruits to "hit the streets" wearing Body Worn Cameras from day one.

Body worn cameras are individually assigned. The video is linked to the officer's badge number and can be tracked in the evidence management system.

Officers start their day by taking their cameras out of the docking station and making sure it is in good working order. Then, they place the camera on their uniform so it can record an optimal field of view. At this point, the officers power the camera on. When officers get to a call, they activate (start recording) their cameras before exiting their vehicle. Officers also activate their cameras in an encounter or whenever they feel the situation warrants a recording. During an event, officers are required to inform people when they are being filmed. At the end of a call or encounter, the officer deactivates the camera.

At the end of their shift, officers return to the police station and power off the camera. The camera is replaced into the docking station. At this point, the video evidence stored on the camera is pushed up to cloud storage. There is watermarking, security measures and encryption on the video so no one can tamper with it. Once the cloud transfer is complete, the camera memory is erased and the battery is recharged.

At the end of a shift, officers place their cameras in a docking station to both recharge the camera and upload the video to cloud storage.

The reaction of the union and the officers to Body Worn Cameras has been positive. "They acknowledged that body cameras are a good thing for the police department," points out Lt. Washburn. "At the end of the day, it's going to protect the officers."

The SJPD Body Worn Camera policy is not without its critics. For example, some of the public have questioned why officers don't keep their cameras activated throughout their shift. Others have criticized that officers have too much control in determining when cameras are activated. The policy considers the officer's privacy as well as the public's. If an officer is making a personal call, taking lunch or using the lavatory, an active camera should not be invading their privacy. Similarly, recorded evidence will not be released to the public to protect the privacy of individuals recorded on camera, especially so if the video is being used as evidence in an investigation.

Body Worn Cameras successfully deployed to all SJPD officers in summer 2016.

Reflecting on the Body Worn Camera program, Lt. Washburn comments, "We have a very professional staff and officers. This will make the SJPD even more professional. And, I think knowing that they're being recorded will encourage them even more to be effective communicators to provide courtesy and professionalism to our customers, the public." Communication, courtesy and serving the public are benefits that concur with a statement from PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler, who has been involved in a myriad of studies concerning the police and the community.

"Body Worn Cameras can increase accountability, but police agencies also must find a way to preserve the informal and unique relationships between police officers and community members." — Chuck Wexler, Executive Director, PERF (Police Executive Research Forum)

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San Jose Police Department


Photographs by Curt Fukuda and Brook Dain

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