Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Body Camera Systems for Police Approved in Capitola and Salinas

In the last week, the city councils of two different cities on the Central Coast, Salinas and Capitola, approved the purchase of body camera systems for their police departments.


The Axon body camera.

The Salinas City Council on April 14 voted to approve the purchase of enough body cameras to outfit every officer in the Salinas Police Department with one. The SPD is now authorized to purchase 70 Axon body cameras manufactured by TASER International, Inc. through a five-year contract, and at a total cost of $388,106.06 with the first year total operating cost at $123,542.50. TASER International is also the manufacturer and distributor of the Taser electroshock gun.

According to Salinas police, the video system features a "30 second pre-event buffer" and was described in the city council agenda report as follows: "It is Bluetooth enabled to allow officers to enter metadata, such as report numbers, names of persons recorded, and locations, prior to uploading captured video. The captured video is later sent directly to, a cloud-based secure storage location that can only be retrieved by the submitting officer or a police supervisor."

"Police staff believes body worn cameras are an important tool in modern policing and will be valuable in improving transparency, accountability and in enhancing community trust; therefore, staff requests immediate action," the agenda report states.

In 2014, officers with the Salinas Police Department shot and killed four community members, which triggered mass protests and wide-spread calls for police accountability in the city.

Angel Ruiz was killed on March 20 by Sergeant Mark Lazzarini, Officer Daniel DeBorde, and Officer William Yetter; Osman Hernandez was killed on May 9 by Sergeant George Lauricella and Officer Derek Gibson; Carlos Mejia-Gomez was killed on May 20 by Sergeant Danny Warner and Officer Josh Lynd; and Frank Alvarado was killed on July 10 by Sergeant Brian Johnson and Officer Scott Sutton.

Also in 2014, Jaime Garcia died after an officer with the Salinas Police Department shot him with a taser gun on October 31.


The 4RE camera system manufactured by Watchguard Digital Systems.

On April 9, the Capitola City Council unanimously voted to approve a request from the Capitola Police Department to use $100,501.31 in Supplemental Law Enforcement State Funds (SLESF) to purchase a dual video system for police vehicles and body cameras. The Capitola police will be the first police agency in Santa Cruz County to outfit all of their officers with body-worn cameras.

Capitola Police Chief Rudy Escalante told council members the department had obtained quotes from several companies, and that they had decided to choose the 4RE camera system manufactured by Watchguard Digital Systems, which is, "rated number one around the country," he said. Escalante said they spoke to several other police agencies who were "very pleased" with the equipment.

The department is now authorized to purchase nine vehicle cameras, two motorcycle cameras, and 20 officer-worn body cameras. The body cameras will be operated when an officer presses a button, Escalante said, but that both the body-worn and the car-mounted cameras have a "record after the fact" feature, and that the audio and video the camera captures could be accessed by the department at a later date. When asked by a council member if the cameras could be viewed "live," Escalante said, "I don't think so."

Escalante told the council that individuals will be notified during police interactions before they are recorded, and that footage is for "internal use" only, unless there is a public information request. Public requests will only be granted in certain situations, he said.

Patrol vehicles will be equipped with cameras mounted on the front side-mirror in order to capture a 180 degree frontal view, as well as cameras (with audio) pointed towards the back seat area of the automobiles.

Escalante said the "benefits" of using the equipment were to, "enhance opportunities to capture evidence," "assist in patrolling anti-social behavior," "provide impartial and accurate evidence collection," and for, "greater insight into service delivery." He also quoted statistics from Rialto Police that purported to show use of force incidents went down by 60%, and officer complaints went down by 88% after that department began using body-worn cameras.

However, organizations such as the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) have criticized the incompleteness of the Rialto report, and for not telling the whole story about the effects of police wearing body cameras. The NLG cautions there are many unresolved legal and civil rights issues regarding the police use of Personal Digital Recording Devices (PDRDs).

"PDRD video is treated as evidence first and foremost," Rachel Lederman of the NLG wrote in 2014. "This means that regardless of whether the video has captured illegal activity, or is being used in an investigation, it is not accessible to the general public – at least not without an attorney and a federal lawsuit, and even then, it may be difficult and take months or years to obtain the complete videos."

"If the cameras are to create greater police accountability, it is essential that the videos be made immediately accessible to the public – and that the public (including Copwatchers and NLG Legal Observers) continue our own independent documentation of law enforcement actions."

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