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City Council Approves Contract For San Diego Police Body Cameras

A San Diego police car out on patrol.

Photo by Nathan Rupert


Above: A San Diego police car out on patrol.

The City Council unanimously approved Tuesday a $3.9 million contract with TASER International to provide cameras that San Diego police officers will wear on their uniforms.

The cameras will record interactions with the public. The Police Department has been beset over the years with citizen complaints of sexual misconduct and racial profiling.

Special Feature Lansdowne Proposes Body Cameras To Help Combat Racial Profiling

In January, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne heard from community members who said they've been racially profiled and proposed sweeping changes to address their concerns.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement saying the group is pleased the department is addressing officer misconduct issues, but it questioned whether sufficient policies are in place to ensure citizens know they are being recorded and are told how to obtain a copy of the recordings.

"While body cameras can do much to protect both citizens and officers, we have serious concerns with what is and is not included in SDPD’s draft policies for body worn cameras, as well as for the process of implementation," the ACLU statement said.

The ACLU said citizens should not have to file a formal complaint to receive a copy of the recording. The group also criticized the department for not having a policy set for what will happen to officers who violate their duties in regards to the cameras.

"Without transparency and public input, the Department is missing an opportunity to build trust with the public and ensure that all concerns are taken into account," the ACLU said.

The deal the council approved could run for four years, if renewed annually. Under it, the city will acquire 300 cameras from TASER's subsidiary by the end of this month. Another 300 will be purchased in the fiscal year that begins July 1 and an additional 400 in the following fiscal year, according to a staff report.

The Seattle-based firm will also provide the infrastructure needed for officers to download data from the cameras after their shifts and for storage.

The cameras record a continuous 30-second loop, so when an officer activates the device while approaching a member of the public, images of what occurred immediately prior to the contact will be available.

The report also touts a battery life that covers an officer's entire shift, and efficiencies that allow officers to upload the recordings and attach metadata without taking the time to log onto a computer.

In a tweet, the San Diego City Clerk's Office shares an update about the City Council's approval of a contract to provide the San Diego Police Department with body cameras, June 10, 2014.

"I think it's important to get this contract out, to get these cameras in and get them in use here throughout the city of San Diego,'' said Councilwoman Marti Emerald.

City officials believe the cameras will improve officer safety, protect them from false complaints, and ensure accountability from police employees and the public.

Councilman Scott Sherman said providing officers with cameras "changes the complexion'' of interactions with the public.

In March, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said the cameras would debut with officers in San Diego's urban core of the Central, Mid-City and Southeastern divisions. Their use will be spread across the city in the future.

Some cameras have been in use for testing and training on the TASER model began Monday.

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