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Public Safety

Chief: SDPD Working On Policy For Public Release Of Video From Body-Worn Cameras

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is shown at the City Council inauguration ceremony, Dec. 10, 2014.
Angela Carone
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman is shown at the City Council inauguration ceremony, Dec. 10, 2014.

The San Diego Police Department is working on a policy for public release of video from officers' body-worn cameras, Chief Shelley Zimmerman told a City Council committee Wednesday.

Her remarks about the cameras came during Zimmerman's report to the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee about the reduction in the number of complaints by San Diegans over their treatment by officers.

During her presentation, the chief reported that the number of major complaints by members of the public about the conduct of San Diego police officers has dropped around 40 percent since uniform-worn cameras were put into use.

Category I complaints and allegations — involving arrests, criminal conduct, discrimination, force and racial or ethnic slurs — fell from 234 in calendar year 2013 to 141 last year, Zimmerman said.

The conversation turned to the public release of video and whether officers should be allowed to use the video to complete police reports.

Zimmerman told the committee that she will be meeting with the chiefs of police of other cities in San Diego County, the sheriff, district attorney, San Diego City Attorney's Office and representatives from the Police Officers Association in forming a working group to determine best practices for releasing the video.

Public hearings will also be scheduled so San Diegans will have input.

"As the chief of police, I don't release video to the 6 o'clock news," Zimmerman said. "Our policy is a blueprint for others to follow. We are the ones others look to on this."

Zimmerman said that San Diego, the eighth largest city in the United States by population, is the largest Police Department to deploy body-worn cameras.

"Everyone that is looking to use body-worn cameras is going to come to us," she said.

Members of the committee expressed their satisfaction with the program so far.

"The more that we use it, the better it's going to get," Councilwoman Myrtle Cole said. "This is only a win-win situation for citizens and for officers."

Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who chairs the committee, asked Zimmerman to appear before the panel again in September or October with an update on the department's policy on the public release of the video.

Emerald also urged officers to use the video to help them complete police reports. There had been failed efforts in Sacramento to pass a law forbidding officers from using the video.

The chief agreed.

"Having the ability to write the most complete police report is better for everyone," Zimmerman said.

The Police Department began handing out the cameras to officers in certain divisions in the middle of 2014, and expanded the program citywide that fall and through last year. According to the report, 1,054 cameras have been deployed so far, including newer models with better video quality and low-light capability.

Canine officers are scheduled to receive the cameras next month, and sergeants, reserve officers and members of the Homeless Outreach Team will get them in July.

Officers activate the recording by pressing a button as they initiate a public contact. Because the cameras are always recording on a 30-second loop, pressing the button will save the half-minute before the contact so reviewing authorities can see the moments that led up to the contact.

According to the report, more than 727,000 videos have been stored.

The department concluded that the use of the cameras has de-escalated some situations, led to fewer incidents requiring force, lowered the number of public complaints and reduced ambiguity of the claims.

"I'm very proud of our entire Police Department," Zimmerman said. "Body-worn cameras have shown ... our officers are professionals. I'm grateful."