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If you are stopped by a police officer in Cotati, the event will likely be captured on a video camera worn on the officer's shirt.

The city's 10 police officers now carry the pager-sized cameras, joining law enforcement agencies around the world that are rapidly adopting the devices to reduce complaints and record valuable information.

Santa Rosa police officers are testing models, with about 15 cameras now on the street. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office expects to start a pilot program next year with cameras on 11 patrol deputies and two jail officers.

Whether such a camera would have been helpful in the aftermath of the recent fatal shooting of a 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy by a sheriff's deputy is unclear.

"It's hard to speculate what impact it would have had on us," said Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Due?s.

Currently, deputies do not wear video cameras or have them on patrol cars. But the presence of such a camera might have provided answers to at least some questions swirling in the community over the Oct. 22 death of Andy Lopez, which has sparked two weeks of protests and spawned a federal civil rights lawsuit by the teen's family.

"I don't know if any type of camera, even with audio, could possibly reflect what an officer was feeling when such an incident occurs, but it surely would establish if his actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances to show sustained fear of death and/or great bodily injury to himself or others," county Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi said in a statement.

Lopez was walking through a southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood carrying an airsoft BB gun resembling an AK-47 assault rifle when he was shot seven times. Deputy Erick Gelhaus told police investigators he ordered Lopez to drop the gun, then fired when the teen turned toward the deputy and his partner, raising the barrel of the BB gun.

Gelhaus said he mistook the airsoft gun for a real assault weapon and feared for the safety of himself, his partner and the neighborhood. Law enforcement protocol allows for officers to shoot when they perceive a threat to their lives. The shooting remains under investigation by Santa Rosa police and the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office.

Pozzi and ACLU officials say the idea of police departments acquiring chest-worn cameras sounds promising, depending on how the video recordings are used.

"The basic idea officers will be wearing some kind of personal camcorder that will record what's going on between them and the public, that seems to be positive," said Marty McReynolds, chairman of the local ACLU chapter.

"The question is, how to protect both the public's and the officers' privacy," McReynolds said. "The details will be important."

While law enforcement officers see the videos as a boon for crime fighting and prosecutions, Pozzi expected such evidence could end up showing prosecutors don't have the evidence they claim.

"Certainly it's accountability," she said. "Many times I think ultimately it will be favorable to the defense as opposed to being helpful to the prosecution."

However this latest trend plays out in courtrooms, it's a popular one.

Law enforcement agencies from Staffordshire, England, where about 500 officers are getting body cameras, to San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles are either fitting staff with the cameras or conducting pilot programs.

Cotati is the first agency in Sonoma County to equip its entire force, 10 officers. Just over half of Sebastopol's 12 officers also have been using them.

Cotati Police Chief Michael Parish said the new technology is a logical step for law enforcement, offering far more detail than fixed dashboard cameras that have been in his city's patrol cars since 1999.

"This goes with the officer wherever they go," said Parish. "When they're doing an enforcement, they activate their camera. When they're done, they turn it off."

Money seized from drug cases paid for the new equipment, which cost $300 per camera and $1,000 for a docking station, Parish said. Officers also each are getting iPhones to work with the cameras.

Santa Rosa police and sheriff's officials are working out funding the substantial cost of buying cameras for several dozen officers and deputies.

The sheriff's pilot program has a $21,000 start-up cost, covered mostly by grant money, said sheriff's Capt. Rob Giordano.

Other issues include which model would hold up best in bad weather or physical fights and how best to store the sizeable amount of data they will collect.

Storage options include Cotati's path — uploading the daily data to a cloud, freeing up the department's computer data storage space, Parish said.

So far, Sebastopol stores its video data on police department computers.

The Sheriff's Office is getting a new server to handle the data on its computers, feeling it's the best way to protect the information, said Giordano.

Recording technology for law enforcement has evolved from cumbersome cassette tapes to digital audio devices, dashboard cameras and now to the mobile body-worn cameras.

Several Santa Rosa police sergeants wore older cameras during the 2011-12 Occupy Santa Rosa movement, which included a large group of people camping out at City Hall.

But improvements since those earlier models have been substantial. Coupled with a sharp drop in price — some versions cost as much as $1,000 each — the new models have become a viable option for widespread use by patrol officers, said Santa Rosa Lt. John Noland.

Parish said Cotati officers tried out a variety of camera styles, including those attached to glasses, before choosing a clip-on type typically worn on a shirt front.

Law enforcement officials said they believe such cameras will help in typical daily interactions.

They could better capture a suspected drunken driver failing sobriety tests, or more fully record the turmoil of a domestic violence call.

Did the person really give permission for the officer to search their car? Captured on video it should be clear, said Parish.

"If a defense attorney sees their client is on camera doing whatever, you would think we could have a better chance of prosecution," Parish said.

Officers said they'll also be glad to capture non-verbal actions of a person, saying that can play a big role in how an incident unfolds.

"I think it is an incredibly valuable tool," said Noland. "It's going to increase officer safety. We'll learn from mistakes or tactical errors officers make. We'll learn from interview techniques ... and see the body language live."

Noland said the cameras also should lead to "more understanding of why officers take the action they take, and the timing."

That could include officer-involved shootings or use of force, such as Tasers.

In Sebastopol, Sgt. Mike Nielsen said he would have liked to have been wearing one in 2000 when, as a Santa Rosa Junior College police officer, he was involved in a fatal shooting of man with a blackened squirt gun.

The man, held at gunpoint by Nielsen and two Santa Rosa officers, ignored orders to drop what they believed was a real gun and to get on the ground. When the man pointed it at the officers, they fired.

The shooting was reviewed and deemed lawful by the District Attorney's Office.

"A chest cam would have clearly showed what happened. It wasn't disputable. But it would be nice if they could see what we saw," Nielsen said.

Chest-worn cameras showed up on Sebastopol police about a year ago when several officers bought their own.

When the department saw a drop in complaints, officers were reimbursed and officials now are buying new cameras for those who want to use them. So far that's seven of the 12 officers.

"I love mine," said Nielsen, who has used one regularly for several weeks. He said he isn't concerned about recording his actions on video and likes knowing he's gathering more detail for reports and possible court cases.

Sebastopol Chief Jeff Weaver praised the cameras, saying they've helped eliminate baseless complaints.

One recent example involved a car owner who accused a Sebastopol officer of scratching their car by placing a radar gun on it. The owner was seeking repair costs and threatening to sue, Weaver said.

"The body-worn camera showed the radar gun never left the officer's vehicle. We never heard from the driver in that regard again," said Weaver.

While the cameras have benefits, law enforcement agencies cannot become overly reliant on them, said Giordano at the Sheriff's Office. Video cameras offer a particular angle of an incident but not the whole story, he said.

"It's one more piece of the puzzle," Giordano said.

But it's a piece that often is missing these days, said Nielsen. With so many people using their cellphone cameras to capture video of police activities "why not have it from our perspective," he said.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said she hasn't seen any such body-worn videos show up in court yet, but anticipated they will be helpful.

"Any time you can enhance your collection of evidence for presentations to a fact finder it's a good thing," said Ravitch. "Especially in the day we're living in now, with CSI, juries like us to present evidence of all different sorts.

"Any tool we put into our toolbox to help us seek the truth, I welcome it," Ravitch said.

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