The City Council approved policies and procedures for body cameras at Monday’s meeting. Santa Paula Police Officer Daniel Gosslin (above) wears his Wolfcom Vision camera on his shoulder; the Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation purchased 25 cameras, docking stations and covered other costs for the program.

City Council approves policies and
procedures for SPPD body cameras

September 25, 2015
Santa Paula News

Santa Paula became perhaps the only agency in the county to approve body cameras for all on-duty police personnel after the City Council approved policies and procedures.

The council approved the guidelines for body cameras at the September 21 meeting. Fire Chief Rick Araiza was acting city manager due to the absence of Jaime Fontes.

“I’ve been thinking about body cameras for about a year,” Police Chief Steve McLean told the council and in light of incidents across the nation that have sparked controversy, “I came to the conclusion that we have no choice…”

The Santa Paula Police & Fire Foundation made the $27,000-plus purchase for the cameras and support equipment in February 2015.

“They didn’t bat an eye and wrote a check for the total cost…and that’s on top of the tens and tens of thousands of dollars the foundation has already provided to police and fire.”

Added McLean, “We thank them for their wonderful support…”

SPPD Senior Officer Larry Johnson and IT Manager Chris Thompson addressed the council with Johnson noting that the SPP&FF grant provided the funds for 25 cameras, charging stations and other needs.

Patrol sergeants, senior officers, patrol officers and reserves will wear the cameras; the latter will check them out during shifts rather than having equipment assigned to them.

There are also “one or two extra cameras” as needed.

After comparing the capabilities of different models and prices Johnson told the council the SPPD purchased the Wolfcom Vision models which among other features offers higher recording resolution, better lens angle, embedded Officer ID, are lightweight and compact and have four times the memory.

Battery packs will also extend recording time to more than 10 hours.

The Wolfcom can be worn on the shoulder, belt or chest.

Thompson was able to create the server needed for the equipment at a one-time cost but Johnson said the city would still pay an annual licensing fee of $36 per camera.

Activation of the cameras said Johnson is not intended for every contact and the county protocol that all domestic violence calls be audio taped “but we’ll be using the cameras” that also record sound.

The SPPD policy will “require that we record all contacts with those with mental issues,” situations that can be unstable. 

If a subject police make contact with becomes combative the camera will be activated. 

Johnson noted that officers are also being instructed to “be sensitive…we go on a lot of medical calls,” that require privacy. 

Johnson showed several examples of camera use from a bag of cocaine found in a man‘s shirt that was being booked into the jail and a K9 search to a traffic stop involving three officers that showed different perspectives of the contact.

A K9 handler, Johnson noted that a side benefit to filming K9s in action is that if they do have to restrain a subject and there is a complaint, footage can be shown that demonstrates the K9s calmness with a cooperative suspect that the dog “is always under control…”

Cameras can also be tied in with Global Positioning Systems.

The cameras “capture back” 30 seconds of video and will be automatically activated if the non-lethal Taser is deployed.

Thompson explained methods and technology of retaining the video while Johnson addressed how long such video would be kept.

Statewide policy is that recordings not linked to a report are purged after six months.

“If an officer believes the tape has value,” Johnson said a report number would be assigned; contacts that potentially could be lead to civil litigation will also stored.

The only way stored videotape can be destroyed is through a judge’s order to destroy all evidence.  

There are different retention rates “for different situations,” that Johnson said can range from six months to two years to “indefinitely…”

Councilwoman Jenny Crosswhite asked about traffic stop policy where camera activation is an option and questioned if a problem arises before the camera is activated. 

“Every time an officer gets out of his car it can go sideways,” said Johnson and SPPD Officers are “highly trained and highly skilled” with strong instincts. 

“Our officers have a much lower use of force,” than other agencies, he noted, “It’s the training…”

SPPD Commander Ish Cordero said the SPPD worked with the District Attorney’s Office on the policy, which was taken from the national Lexipol, the national law enforcement policy clearing house.

“We were commended on addressing every major issue in that policy,” said Cordero.

He told Crosswhite officers “know when they have that feeling” that something is amiss and they would activate the camera, which would have recorded the previous 30 seconds.

Johnson noted if officers were required to use the cameras for each traffic stop it would slow them down.

“It limits their ability,” he said, “to do their job…”

Councilman Jim Tovias asked about informing those police make contact with about the camera and Johnson told him the policy is for officers to wear the cameras where they are easy to see or tell the person they are being recorded.

City Attorney John Cotti told the council the ACLU is “comfortable” with the use of cameras as long as privacy is not breached and recordings have a clear policy of retention and disposal of tapes.

Vice Mayor Martin Hernandez thanked the foundation for their donation and noted, “This is why we have such a wonderful community, we have people,” that support public safety and its needs. 

“It is a fact that officers wearing a camera improves behavior on both parts,” McLean told the council. “It’s just one more thing we can do to demonstrate to this community that the Santa Paula Police Department is committed to being transparent.”

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