City council to vote on PAPD body cameras

The Palo Alto Police Department (PAPD) will equip 90 more police officers with body-mounted cameras if the 2016 Palo Alto city budget passes in June, ending the one-year pilot program and moving to advance this technology to all officers.

The city’s recently announced budget includes allocating $95,000 towards new body cameras, which will allow the police department to expand the use of this new technology in order to promote transparency.

According to a report from the city manager’s office, the PAPD pilot program began in 2013 and consisted of nine body-mounted cameras which were tested primarily with officers on motorcycles.

“This will allow officers, primarily on motorcycles, to capture video evidence when they are away from their vehicles,” the 2015 report said.

In the 2016 budget proposal, body-mounted cameras are noted as a piece of a larger video recording system, as the current in-car recording systems only capture approximately 40 to 60 percent of police field patrol interactions with the public.

The body cameras will work alongside the police department’s recently installed video camera system in patrol cars, which can capture a 270 degree view. This five-camera system is an improvement from the traditional front-facing dash camera.

According to the budget, the body-mounted cameras are predicted to help assist in criminal prosecution, reduce civil liability and aid in the review of alleged misconduct. If the budget is approved, Palo Alto will join a growing number of cities which are adopting body-mounted cameras for police.

Last year, Santa Clara Supervisor Joe Simitian led an investigation about the use of technology for sheriffs. Based on the research conducted by his staff, he believes that body-mounted cameras have the potential to reduce excessive force, and assist officers in investigations.

Last month, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced a budget that included $3 million to equip all police officers with body-mounted cameras. His announcement follows similar announcements from cities such as Baltimore and announcements of pilot programs in New York, Chicago and Washington.

According to a survey, conducted by PoliceOne and TASER International, around 25 percent of police agencies are using body-mounted cameras and 80 percent of agencies are evaluating future use of the technology.

Furthermore, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fully supports the use of body-mounted cameras to increase officer accountability. However, it believes that the systems still have the potential to invade the public’s privacy.

“Overall, we think [body-mounted cameras] can be a win-win — but only if they are deployed within a framework of strong policies to ensure they protect the public without becoming yet another system for routine surveillance of the public and maintain public confidence in the integrity of those privacy protections,” ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley wrote in an article.

The use of body cameras has recently come under fire, due to the inconsistent use by officers and possible infringement upon privacy.

“We have to know why they will be used, and what safeguards are in place to make sure they won’t be misused.” Chauncee Smith, racial justice advocate for the ACLU of Northern California said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “People’s privacy needs to be protected.”

Nevertheless, police departments are touting the benefits of body-mounted cameras, including drops in use of force incidents and complaints from citizens. After equipping its police department with body-mounted cameras, the Oakland Police Department saw a 72 percent decrease in use of force incidents.

If the proposed budget is passed by the city council in June, officers will have another tool to aid in protecting themselves and the public.