Which Sonoma County law enforcement personnel wear body cameras?

More than a year after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors agreed to buy body cameras for sheriff’s deputies, are the cameras in use? Do they have policies that require them to be “on” whenever they interface with the public? How many city law enforcement agencies have personnel wear cameras?

Ernie Carpenter, Sebastopol

Body-worn cameras are now widely used by Sonoma County law enforcement. Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Cotati, Sebastopol and Healdsburg police officers as well as most Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies.

Rohnert Park Public Safety Department Director Brian Masterson said that his agency expects to begin training and outfitting most officers and detectives with cameras later in the spring. Cloverdale Police Chief Stephen Cramer said the city has approved a plan to get cameras for its officers in July.

The Sheriff’s Office has about 250 Axon cameras made by Taser International in use by sworn, uniformed personnel, including patrol deputies, sergeants, detectives and court security, Sgt. Cecile Focha said.

Detectives or patrol deputies in plainclothes assignments also wear body-worn cameras “as prudent during tactical operations or when otherwise deemed necessary,” Focha said.

Sonoma County supervisors approved a five-year contract for nearly $1.2 million for the cameras in early December 2014. Focha said they received the equipment that month and began testing the cameras with a group of about 25 to 30 deputies who wore them daily to work out technological and logistical kinks of the new program, such as where on uniforms to wear them. The department also had to develop a policy to guide deputies on how to use them.

A more large-scale training process began several months later in March 2015 when representatives from Taser came to the department to run several instructional sessions. The camera program was fully functional by the end of summer 2015, Focha said.

Deputies generally must always be recording, according to the department’s policy section governing body-worn camera use: “Unless it would be unsafe, impossible, or impractical for the situation, members are required to activate their BWC prior to making contact when responding to all calls for service, and during any law enforcement related encounters and activities that occur while the member is on duty.”

Exceptions include interviews with crime victims and confidential informants and conversations between deputies discussing tactical planning or case strategies.

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