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Review of San Diego Police body cameras yields surprises

| Sep 9, 2015 | Firm News |

f you or someone you love is charged with a DUI or other crime you need to call our office now at 858-751-4384 for a free consultation.

San Diego is slowly implementing the cameras into the field.  It is hit and miss right now when we research to find out if any officer at the scene had a camera. The body camera is good for everyone. It records what is actually happening and not someone’s impression of what happened. As a former Prosecutor, I can tell you without a doubt when in the trial the jury usually believes the officers. The camera will no doubt be beneficial for citizens who had a different perspecitve than the officers.

I will say the camera helps the officers because it will thwart any false accusations that is thrown at officers often.

Video is such a great tool for the field of law. It is a memorialization of what happened. It helps both law enforcement and those accused. One key point I wonder is how long will the video be stored and not purged. For instance, someone accused of a San Diego DUI may be able to show they were in fact not the driver of a vehicle. The video would show who exited the drivers side. However, the police would not be wanting the video. It would be defense counsel. A person has to be arrested, get out of jail, find and retain and attorney. The attorney would have to gather facts before they would even have a chance to subpoena the video.

The CHP has Dash Cam videos called MVARS. The video is an effective tool in discerning how the San Diego DUI stop went. I have had situations where the client said something was said or done that just was not on the video. The fact it did not happen helped resolved the issues the client had and the case was resolved.

I am proud to say SDPD (San Diego Police) has been implementing the body cameras.

For all sides in the matter I hope the body cameras become an everyday tool of law enforcement.

San Diego police officers outfitted with body cameras have received fewer complaints from the public but have also used more force – a finding that surprised department leaders.

Those are among the conclusions in a report on the department’s first year of body camera use, which will be presented at a news conference Wednesday.

Complaints against officers fell 23 percent between July 2014 and June 2015 and instances of force increased 10 percent in the same time period, the report said.

The results differed from an in-house study done six months after the rollout of body cameras, which showed both use of force and complaints against officers had fallen.

“This first year of data all seems to suggest that (body cameras) aren’t the end-all solution to all social issues,” said San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, who said she was surprised at some of the study’s results. “We are going to need to enhance other current strategies that are effective, such as our psychiatric emergency response teams … our homeless outreach team … and our crisis-response team officers.”

Police body cameras have been praised as a tool that can lead to greater department transparency, better officer accountability and improved interactions between police and the public. But debate continues over how police cameras should be used to achieve those benefits. Which encounters should be recorded? Should officers be able to view video before writing reports? When should footage be released to the public?

Zimmerman, speaking to the Union-Tribune editorial board, reiterated Tuesday that the department doesn’t plan to release body camera footage in most cases, a policy criticized by some civil rights and media organizations.

The department began phasing in body cameras in July 2014, partly in an effort to regain the public’s trust following numerous allegations of officer misconduct.

Currently, 871 officers are outfitted with cameras across the department. However, the report only analyzed data from the Southeastern, Central and Mid-City divisions. They are the only divisions that have used body cameras for a full year.

A 2012 study of the Rialto Police Department, which was at the forefront of the body camera trend, found there was a 60 percent decrease in use-of-force incidents after cameras were deployed.

That was not the case in the San Diego study where use-of-force instances increased 10 percent between July 2014 and June 2015, compared to the year before.

Instances of force and incidents involving force aren’t the same, officials said. There could be more than one instance of force during an incident, so the number of incidents involving force is likely lower that the report’s total of 6,421.

While the overall number increased, not all types of force were used more often, Zimmerman said.

The department saw a 17 percent increase in “lesser controlling force” during the year officers used body cameras. Lesser force techniques make use of physical strength, such as when an officer uses their body weight to get someone under control.

More aggressive tactics – like putting someone in a chokehold, using pepper spray or firing a Taser – are filed under “greater” controlling or defending force, which dropped 8 percent in the year officers used body cameras.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the ACLU of California’s criminal justice and drug policy director, said any increase in force is something to investigate further. But she said a decrease in more serious uses of force is a good sign. She applauded the department for tracking and analyzing data as the use of body cameras continues.

She also suggested that the debate about body cameras is occurring amid a larger conversation about police practices that may also influence findings.

The department was interested if other variables might have affected use-of-force statistics.

Officials looked at incidents within the Southeastern, Central and Mid-City divisions and found that assaults against officers, mental health calls and aggravated assaults had all increased, by 36 percent, 11 percent and 5 percent respectively, when body cameras were in use.

They also found that fewer adults were booked on suspicion of drug charges in the year following Proposition 47.

Department leaders speculated that perhaps body cameras might not be as effective in communities where there are a high number of mental health calls, aggravated assaults and drug-related arrests, but Zimmerman acknowledged that was just a hypothesis. She added that the increase also could result from officers more accurately reporting use of force.

Although use of force climbed, the report found that both complaints against officers and allegations made against officers fell after body cameras were put into use. A complaint can include more one allegation.

Complaints fell 23 percent, while allegations fell 44 percent.

There are four types of allegations. Sustained allegations, when officers were in the wrong; exonerated allegations, when an officer’s behavior was justified; unfounded allegations, when an officer didn’t do what they are accused of; and not sustained allegations, which don’t come with enough information to make a determination one way or the other.

The report revealed a sizable drop in the number of allegations that weren’t sustained, from 19 to 3. With the help of body cameras, investigators can more easily determine what happened during an officer’s interaction with a citizen, which is good news for everyone, Zimmerman said.

Officials said they weren’t able to provide the number of sustained allegations for each year, which would have shown how many times officers were found to be in the wrong during the year they wore body cameras, versus the year without.

Zimmerman said while the department found the report “very interesting and very informative,” she cautioned forming definitive conclusions about the program’s effectiveness.

The full article can be found here.

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