Santa Clara County Approves Body-Worn Cameras
Santa Clara County Supervisor, District Five
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the acquisition and deployment of body-worn cameras for the County Sheriff’s enforcement deputies and correctional officers.
County Supervisor Joe Simitian first proposed the use of body-worn cameras in December of 2014 with an eye toward their use in the community by Sheriff’s deputies on patrol. The potential use of body-worn cameras by correctional officers in the County jail surfaced following the death of an inmate in 2015.
Simitian said that he was motivated to act after witnessing the tragedy in Ferguson in 2014. "We can watch with anguish what's happened in other communities around the country, shake our heads, and then move on. Or, we can accept the responsibility to do something,” Simitian said. “These certainly aren't problems that are going to solve themselves. The technology is available, and I think we ought to be using it.”
Simitian acknowledges that body-worn cameras aren’t a cure-all, but sees three potential benefits. “I think cameras can protect the public against officer misconduct, protect the officers against unfounded allegations, and help restore trust and confidence in law enforcement and public institutions generally.”
Simitian said that he sees the cameras as one of three important steps toward greater transparency and accountability in law enforcement:
· Body-worn cameras for patrol and correctional officers;
· Comprehensive Implicit-bias training for Sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers; and
· Meaningful civilian oversight of both enforcement and corrections.
“If we do all three,” said Simitian, “we have the best possible chance of averting tragedy and building trust. And building trust,” said Simitian, “is key to keeping our law enforcement folks safe as well.”
Following his December 2014 proposal for body-worn cameras, in September of 2015, Simitian proposed an in-depth implicit-bias training for all law enforcement officers in the County. The training program began three months later, and to date, approximately 198 deputies have taken the classes.
“With this additional training, our officers are better equipped to recognize instances in which implicit bias may play a role, and are better able to overcome such bias and perform their duties in a fair and neutral way,” Simitian said.
And finally, the County is currently considering options for implementing a system of civilian oversight. Simitian says he hopes to have a proposal to offer June of this year.
Body-worn cameras have been gaining increased acceptance with law enforcement agencies around the country; and while research on their effects is still being conducted, early results are promising. A 16-month-long study conducted in Rialto, California, showed a more than 50% reduction in use of force by police officers wearing cameras, and a nearly 90% drop in citizen complaints of police misconduct.
Much of Tuesday’s Board meeting was spent finalizing the Use Policy governing the use of body-worn cameras by the County. “I was anxious to move forward, but determined that we move forward in the right way, with a good set of rules in place. I think we got there,” said Simitian following the Board’s 5-0 vote. Eventually, an estimated 1,142 officers will be outfitted with the cameras.