Escondido, CA

Sheriff’s deputies to use body-worn cameras in pilot program

County of San Diego deputy Sheriffs will, at least during the field testing period of a pilot project, have cameras on their bodies to record activity.

A 4-0 San Diego County Board of Supervisors vote March 3, with Bill Horn absent, authorized the director of the county’s Department of Purchasing and Contracting to issue a competitive solicitation for a body-worn camera system. The Department of Purchasing and Contracting may award a single contract or multiple contracts based on the evaluation of the bidders.

“I’m glad to see this moving forward,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.

The interaction between the public and deputies responding to or investigating calls for assistance is often an important part of the investigation record. The Sheriff’s Department has researched the feasibility of utilizing a body-worn camera system to record such interaction.

“Public agencies across the nation are exploring the use of body cameras,” said Ron Lane, the deputy chief administrative officer for the county’s Public Safety Group. “The Sheriff’s Department would like to move forward with testing several systems.”

Not only would body-worn cameras provide a technological advance in transmitting accurate interaction details, but such cameras may also help to promote the perceived legitimacy and sense of procedural justice communities expect from their law enforcement agencies.

“I believe new technology can improve our law enforcement capability and our relationship with local communities,” said Supervisor Dave Roberts. “I think this is a great balance between protecting our deputy Sheriffs and retaining the strong trust that we have throughout the community.”

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore notes that one of the reasons for San Diego County’s declining crime rates for certain types of crimes has been the partnership between law enforcement and the community. “I think this is going to be a great addition to the partnership,” Gore said.

The Sheriff’s Department has researched the feasibility of body-worn camera systems. A request for information provided 19 responses from interested vendors along with technological and cost information.

The Sheriff’s Department currently believes that the cost of deploying body-worn cameras on all patrol, probation, detention, and outreach deputies as well as trainees at the Sheriff’s academy will exceed $1 million annually, and that cost does not include expenses for electronic storage of the video recordings. The field-testing period will also allow for a more accurate fiscal impact estimate. “We will develop a much clearer understanding of the cost over the next few months,” Lane said.

The field testing will take place this spring and summer, which will also determine the preferred system.

“The important thing is to get it right,” said Supervisor Greg Cox.

Gore noted that the Sheriff’s Department would implement policies and procedures, in conjunction with input from community organizations, prior to commencing use of the body-worn cameras.

“I’m very impressed with the way the Sheriff is proceeding with this issue,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

Dave Roberts noted that body cameras can be worn on the chest, on the shoulder, or as head-mounted devices. “It is important to look at the different vantage points of these cameras,” he said.

Dave Roberts added that the cameras would also record verbal interaction involving Sheriff’s deputies. “I think audio quality is also important as well as video quality,” he said.

“I truly believe that there will be a great benefit to the deputies and also to the public,” Jacob said.

“It is a positive improvement,” Cox said.

The Sheriff’s Department will return to the Board of Supervisors for a more permanent program if the pilot project proves worthwhile. That follow-up Board of Supervisors action will also include the identification of a funding source.

“I look forward to this coming back to the board,” Jacob said.

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