Police move forward with body cameras

The Susanville Police Department is moving forward with a body camera pilot program, one that is compliant with the policies of the U.S. Department of Justice and will be assessed at the city’s next budget process this summer to help the council decide if the program should continue.

The program involves the purchase of 16 cellular phones through the Verizon Public Safety purchasing program. Recently passed by the council, the Verizon agreement provides public safety personnel with specific bandwidth and data when the system is overloaded, taking precedent over the bandwidth.

What makes these phones actual body cameras is a DOJ compliant application that is installed on them. The application utilizes the phone’s camera for video, audio and camera function.

Through a “one-touch” activation, officers are able to activate the video camera when needed. Video, photos and recordings are then automatically uploaded to the Microsoft Azure Government Cloud, where it is held for specific amounts of time. Evidence techs then compile the evidence taken on a case and send a link to the district attorney’s office for their download.

Police Chief Kevin Jones shared with the council and those in attendance the several benefits the new technology would provide to the department.

Officers will no longer have to upload photos or recordings and with the photo and video automatically generating their exact position by GPS location, which cannot be turned off.

Evidence technicians will only have to compile photo, video and audio evidence and send a link to the DA’s office for discovery.

With GPS tracking on each phone, the department is able to track specific crime trends to each patrol area. This can be used to compare high crime rate areas to patrol and proactive enforcements.

The cameras will have an above the waist placement and are one-touch, meaning one touch activates recording and another allows officers to communicate clearly with each other in hard-to-reach areas of the city.

According to the department’s summary to the city council, the feature is especially useful for “covert operations and operations where you do not want to compete with regular patrol traffic in the city and county.”

Every device will have the ability to capture actions in use of force incidents that could essentially save the city in unnecessary litigation fees.

Jones also detailed that the devices and the technology are tamper-proof and would fit the department’s goals of the program, which are to increase transparency, accountability, improve trust and cooperation and minimize false complaints, allegations and liability.

The smartphone is the only hardware required for the program. The phones will be placed with a clip or a pocket to keep them ready for activation at any time with one push of a button.

Once the footage is uploaded into the cloud, finding the recordings is a matter of using the robust search features. The recordings can be found through several search parameters such as by officer, date, case number and/or location. Each time a recording is viewed, there is documentation of that viewing.

Mayor pro tem Joseph Franco asked Jones if the officers had control of when the device begins to record and shared his concern that the device should capture every incident. Jones followed up Franco’s question detailing that unless there is a consent decree, it was typical of a police department to utilize the cameras in the same fashion.

Although, Jones shared his preferences for how he’d prefer the cameras, saying, “We’re in the time of body cameras,” and that most of the time an officer leaves their vehicle they should have them on. Jones was confident that officers would comply at all times.

Jones is hoping to utilize funds from the city’s tobacco enforcement grant and stated that the cost of the program would be $7,360 for the pilot and cost $17,664 as a yearly total moving forward.