The community task force created by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in the wake of the October slaying 13-year-old Andy Lopez on Monday reviewed body-mounted cameras being tested by the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
Members of the 21-member committee were able to handle the devices in use by some deputies under a pilot program and ask questions about how the data is stored, used and protected.
Lt. Clint Schubel said the sheriff's office wants to strike a balance between privacy concerns and recording relevant interactions between police and citizens.
"We want to make sure we're picking something that's going to work for everybody," Schubel said.
Feedback from other departments switching to such cameras is positive. The City of Rialto reported an 87 percent reduction in citizen complaints since switching to them, Schubel said.
There are two cameras models under review by the sheriff's office, 12 by a company called Vievu, and five by Taser, the same company that makes the electroshock weapon carried by officers around the nation.
The key difference is how the videos from the devices are downloaded and stored.
The Vievu records the videos on the device, and at the end of the shift the camera's data is downloaded to a local server. The cameras cost from $600 to $800 each.
Taser's device, which goes by the name Axon, is less expensive, costing about $300 each. Data from the Axon is downloaded to servers at Taser-controlled facility in Arizona.
Sgt. Andy Cash said there are several advantages to the Axon. One is that the camera is always recording in "buffering" mode when it is on. When an officer hits record mode, the camera saves the previous 30 seconds and keeps recording.
Committee member Gustavo Mendoza, a local leader with California Youth Outreach, wanted to know if the policy left it up to "officer judgment" about when to turn the cameras on.
Schubel said the intention is that whenever there is an enforcement stop underway, the policy would call for the camera to be operated. But he said he expected there would probably need to be a phase-in period before strict requirements about when the cameras are used were in force.
It makes sense that deputies asked to perform a new job requirement will need some time to adjust, he said.
"The (deputy sheriff's) association is going have some say on how this whole system is operated," Schubel said.
Andy Lopez activist Elaine Holtz said she was very concerned with Sgt. Cash's statement that if he unexpectedly needed to draw and use his weapon, turning on his camera would be a secondary consideration.
Holtz wondered under such a policy whether cameras would have been activated by deputies involved in the Lopez's shooting.
"In that incident would he had been expected to turn it on?" she asked.
"I don't know," Cash responded.
Holtz said she would prefer a system of continuous recording that allowed the camera needed to be turned off for situations that are inappropriate to record, such as for deputy or public privacy.
Eric Koenigshofer wondered whether the amount of gear deputies are being required to carry on their bodies to do their jobs was too much to carry or manage.
"You guys are starting to look like Christmas trees," Koenigshofer said.
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