Menlo Park Police Must Turn on Body Cameras Before Arriving at Scene

The Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday night asked the police department to revise its body camera policy to ensure the police officers turn on their equipment before every call.

As the current policy states, police officers have to turn on their cameras before every serious and high-priority call, but as Councilman Ray Mueller noted, that language is confusing - how do officers know if the calls will be serious or not before they show up?

Police Chief Robert Jonsen agreed to redraft the policy requiring officers to wear the cameras, and turn them on, before each call, and come back to the council with a revised draft for a council vote in February.

The issue of turning on and off the cameras arose on Nov. 11, 2014.

That's when the community discovered that only  two of the three officers wore body cameras when a burglary suspect was shot and killed, and of the two, only one officer had turned his camera on.

Jonsen said he wants his officers to document each call.

"The primary changes for us is to getting our officers in the mindset in activating their camera prior to arrival for a call for service," he said at the meeting. All officers who don't turn on their cameras will now be in violation of the department's policy.

Mueller had wanted this policy all along. Turning on and off the camera is too time consuming and potentially dangerous, he said.

"If you're responding to an emergency event, do I want an officer worried about the emergency event or remembering to turn the camera on?" Mueller said.

Also, the police department will bring back to the council a "reasonable" time frame to keep all the body camera video, Mueller said. Now that each call will be recorded, it will be a data storage nightmare to keep all of it. As it stands, the current policy mandates the video to be kept for 2 1/2 years. Mueller said the council is open to revising that time period.

For almost a decade, the Menlo Park Police Department has issued and required officers to use digital audio recorders, recording all contacts with citizens. These audio files were uploaded to a secure internal server and used as evidence in criminal cases, civil cases, use of force reviews, personnel complaints and state and federal law suits. In 2011, the city council approved the purchase of 40 body worn cameras through COPS grant funding.

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