El Centro police outfitted with body camerasAugust 04, 2014
For about a year and a half, the El Centro Police Department’s officers have had another set of eyes with them while patrolling.
Following suit with many other police departments across the country, all officers now utilize on-body during any enforcement activity and most contact with the public. The department is one of few, if not the only, Valley police departments to use them.
“Our biggest concern is we want to show the public that we’re a professional organization and we want to make sure we maintain that professionalism,” said Cmdr. Robert Sawyer.
Considered a “quality control” tool, benefits of body-worn cameras also include capturing evidence and being utilized as evidence in court.
While Sawyer said it wasn’t a deciding factor in getting the cameras, “there’s always that certain human element that if someone is standing behind watching you that you’ll be on your best behavior,” he explained.
Other police departments such as Rialto’s have cited a reduction in use of force incidents as well as use of force complaints since implementing the use of body worn cameras.
In 2013, El Centro police had 14 documented uses of force, and in 2012, there were 31 documented uses of force. In 2011, there were 24 and in 2010, there were 27.
However, the drop in documented incidents last year can’t necessarily be attributed to the use of body-worn cameras since the department also changed how it documents use of force in 2013, said Cmdr. Aaron Reel.
In the past, the department would document any time that an officer used physical force to take someone into custody and could include an act such as an officer using his hands to pull a suspect’s hands into handcuffs. Now, officers only document “actual” use of force actions, such as deploying pepper spray, Reel said.
He added that there’s many other contributing variables that affect use of force statistics and cautioned against solely attributing any change in numbers to the use of body-worn cameras.
However, cameras do have an affect as people recognize the new device worn by officers, Reel added.
“We pride ourselves that we don’t use force on a frequent basis so we pride ourselves on not having a use of force issue,” Sawyer said, adding that each case goes through a review process afterward.
The Vievu body video cameras collect video footage that will be kept for a minimum of five years.
“As with any technology, we have failure sometimes and human error,” Sawyer said, noting that policy requires officers to turn the body-cameras on during enforcement activity and most encounters with the public. Failure to abide by policy has repercussions.
Some initially didn’t particularly welcome the added technology but warmed up to it with time and training to remember to turn on the cameras and the extended microphones linked to the car camera system.
“People in general, (there’s) resistance to change but the officers see the value of having the cameras and the evidence captured on the cameras ... We would like to think we don’t have anyone that would jeopardize their career or tarnish the reputation of the agency but this is one way to ensure that our officers are out there and being courteous with the public,” Sawyer said.
In added benefits, the number of complaints have dropped as people have sometimes stopped a complaint once they hear that the department has camera footage of the encounter.
“We have been able to exonerate officers from citizen complaints on several occasions based on the review of the video ... We’re confident that we’re a professional organization to begin with so now we have proof of that ... Use of the cameras has been able to solidify the chain of events that occurred,” Sawyer said.
He cautioned that cameras are one-directional though and may not account for activity behind the officer or in his or her periphery.
However, with many citizens filming police encounters nowadays, the body-worn cameras may simply give additional insight.
“Whether your camera is on or not, someone’s camera is on you, especially in this day and age ... this is our way of showing the officers’ point of view,” Sawyer said.
Footage is not something made readily available to the public and is released on a case by case basis, Sawyer said. Suspects can obtain it through their defense attorneys, he added.
The Police Department is looking into releasing some of the video captured on the body-worn cameras on the El Centro Police Department’s Facebook page sometime in the future.Contact:Chelcey Adami , Staff Writercadami@ivpressonline.com, 760-337-3452