After several delays and stalled pilot programs, the city of San Jose and its police union have reached an agreement that should lead to all officers being equipped with body-worn cameras by next summer.
In a press release, city officials and the San Jose Police Officers Association (SJPOA) said the policy will make sure “privacy rights of victims, witnesses, innocent bystanders and police officers” are a priority. As part of that pledge, the agreement “expressly prohibits the videotaping of free speech demonstrations and other venues where there is an expectation of privacy such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other medical facilities.”
While it makes sense to exclude audio and video recordings at the latter facilities, the former—free speech demonstrations—is a bit of a double-edged sword. While there are concerns that law enforcement could target and track political activists and members of the public who attend rallies, recent clashes between police and protesters across the nation suggest there is a need to document demonstrations in the event arrests and violent interactions occur.
The policy sets out “specific protocols” for documenting encounters between police and the public, but those details have not been released. San Jose Inside asked city officials for details on whether audio and video recordings will be subjected to Public Records Act requests, but no answer has been provided yet.
"We are continuing to work hard with other stakeholders toward full implementation of body-worn cameras,” Police Chief Larry Esquivel said in a statement. “It’s a process, but now we’re much closer to full implementation. In this case, technology, transparency, and healthy relationships are vital to our success in how we build community trust and better serve our residents."
This is especially true after a report this week found that police are targeting Latinos and African Americans at a far higher rate than whites and Asians.
Mayor Sam Liccardo has made a public push for expediting the rollout of body-worn cameras (BWC) in the last few weeks, following Esquivel’s announcement in March that he hoped to roll out cameras by the end of next year.
“Today’s agreement with the SJPOA on a body-worn camera policy strengthens the bonds between our officers and community and makes a great police department even better,” Liccardo said in the press release. “I remain committed to deploying body-worn cameras on every patrol officer in San José during the coming fiscal year.”
Similar to all complaints filed against the police by members of the public, the Independent Police Auditor’s office will have a role in reviewing complaints related to BWCs.
Paul Kelly, president of the SJPOA, said in the release that the union looks forward to the “swift implementation of this important technology.”
According to a Mercury News report, Oakland rolled out BWCs for all officers in 2013 and saw a dramatic fall in "use-of-force" incidents. And citizen complaints in 2014 were reduced by 60 percent—more than 1,500 complaints—compared to 2012.
These types of changes not only can lead to greater relationships between police and the public, but over time they can save a city millions of dollars in court settlements.