San Jose Police Chief Requests to Test Body Worn Cameras on 12 Officers, Push Rollout Date to 2016

San Jose’s police chief says he wants to test out body cameras for his officers, at least 12 of them, before spending the estimated $1 million to suit his entire department up.

In an April 3 memo to the city council, Police Chief Larry Esquivel wrote he’d like to study how the cameras work for three to four months with a dozen officers on patrol and in the Special Operations and Information Technology units to see how easy they are to use, how much time it takes to use them and the quality of results.

He also suggested pushing the rollout date to September 2016, as it would take an additional six months to write up a Request for Proposal and seek grant funding from the Department of Justice.I n the same memo, Esquivel noted that he'd like to test out drone use  in 2017, the Mercury News reported.

The council is set to discuss this item on the agenda on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. The staff recommendation is to accept the police’s request on the Body Worn Cameras Pilot Program.

Esquivel noted that the department is also working with the police union to draft a policy that addresses officers' rights and privacy issues, according to San Jose Inside.

Several other Bay Area jurisdictions have already deployed officer-worn cameras, including Oakland, Gilroy, Union City, Los Gatos, Campbell and BART. In March, the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been skeptical of the "cop cams" over privacy issues, noted that about 25 percent of the country's 17,000 police agencies are using the technology, with 80 percent evaluating them.

San Jose tested body cameras in 2009 and 2012, under chiefs Rob Davis and Chris Moore, San Jose Inside noted.

Outgoing Independent Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell, has repeatedly urged the department to use the cameras, saying that the video would increase police accountability and protect officers from he-said-she-said complaints. And even the ACLU, which notes the agency is "against pervasive government surveillance," notes that the cameras "can be a win-win" as long as they are "deployed within a framework of strong policies."

The topic is controversial and is being discussed and implemented at various levels across the country. Supporters argue the cameras will force better police behavior, and critics worry about data retention and privacy issues.

It's also costly. The Police Executive Research Foundation said data storage can reach $2 million a year for data storage. And  that Oakland police, with 600 body cameras, report the department's servers are full with seven terabytes of data per month, the equivalent of 1,500 feature-length films.

Video taken by citizens has changed the national conversation about accepting a police officer's word for what happened, and has even led to criminal charges against officers caught on camera. BART officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting Oscar Grant, which a bystander caught on cell phone video in 2009. And this month in South Carolina, North Charleston Officer Michael Slager was charged with murder after a witness caught him shooting Walter Scott in the back.

Many want video to be used as part of the official record and the DOJ has been writing up guideline for police use.

The National Institute of Justice is funding two studies to try to determine some answers: The impact of wearing the cameras in the Las Vegas Metro Police Department and another evaluation of the video technology in the Los Angeles Police Department.

At least according to some of the research, a DOJ study  found that in Rialto, California, police reduced the number of citizen complaints against officers by 88 percent in one year after using the cameras.

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