After three years of consideration, San Jose will likely join other big-city police departments by equipping officers with body-worn cameras this summer.
The City Council on Tuesday will vote on a five-year, $5 million contract with Taser International to buy 963 cameras, software and training.
The deal would help the San Jose Police Department catch up with other cities, which have deployed cameras in response to growing public demand for police accountability and oversight.
“There is a nationwide movement toward the use of body worn cameras in the law enforcement industry,” police Chief Eddie Garcia wrote in a memo to the council. “Body worn cameras can enhance accountability and increase transparency between officers and the public they serve.”
The idea of using police body cameras has finally reached a near universal consensus. Law enforcement agencies support it because having a video record could protect officers from false allegations of misconduct. The American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy-conscious civil rights groups endorse the idea because it could keep police on their best behavior and make for more accurate record keeping.
Body cameras could have been especially helpful last week, when protests outside of a Donald Trump rally turned violent. Only four people were arrested at the time, and the department has asked citizens to provide digital evidence of any crimes being committed.
Surveys indicate that the vast majority (88 percent) of Americans want police to wear body cameras. The figure remains roughly the same for both Republicans and Democrats.
High-profile cases of police killing unarmed civilians in Baltimore, New York and Ferguson, Missouri, heightened urgency around the issue. In 2014, months after the police shot to death Michael Brown in Ferguson, the White House pledged $75 million dollars to help more police agencies adopt the technology.
San Jose has had a few false starts over the years, but began studying the idea in 2013 and in earnest after the White House called for the technology as a way to restore public trust.
Studies have shown that in cities where police already wear cameras, use-of-force complaints as well as legal costs to defend brutality cases have fallen, in some cases precipitously.
Of course, it’s not enough to just strap the cameras on and expect them to quell police violence and mistrust. San Jose and a host of other cities have grappled with questions about how to use these new tools, including when to hit the “record” button and who has control over the footage once it’s created.
San Jose’s body camera policy was unveiled earlier this year. Here’s a link to the guidelines, which require police to record every incident that requires force.
It gets tricky, however, when it comes to who can see the recordings. Just because an incident is caught on video, it doesn’t mean the public has access to that footage. While not every incident should end up on YouTube, San Jose’s policy of keeping the footage “for law enforcement use only” and to anyone else on “a right to know and need to know basis” presents a conflict between public disclosure and citizens’ privacy.
The contract with Taser International, one of the largest manufacturers of stun guns, comes after months of field tests in which officers compared cameras from eight brands. Taser scored highest overall, according to police.
Officers testing the Taser cameras found them lightweight and easy to use with SJPD’s existing computer-aided dispatch software.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for June 7, 2016:
- San Jose Jazz plans to bring a musical art installation to Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The $50,000 project led by artist collective Tous le Jours consists of a series of swings that emit various musical notes depending on the height a person reaches on the swings. It’s also a game of cooperation. When people swing together, they can play a complete musical score.
- The city-owned Los Lagos Golf Course ran up a $385,000 operating loss last year. Parks officials will start exploring the idea of changing the property from a golf course to something more popular so it could stop being such a money suck.
- When Walter Katz assumed the role of Independent Police Auditor at the start of this year, the city rushed the physical relocation of his office. The new place on North Third Street lacks adequate safety measures for an office that often deals with anxious, agitated and criminal clientele. The city will consider spending $32,000 to beef up security at the new location.
- A memorial for police officers killed in the line of duty will be placed outside of SJPD headquarters. There had been discussions about installing the “End of Watch” monument in a more visible setting. But the committee managing the project decided that police are the primary stakeholders here, and having the monument right outside the agency will stand as a daily reminder to officers of the value of their work.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260