Motorists stopped by Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office deputies may notice new “bling” affixed to officers’ uniforms: credit- card-sized black boxes recording the interaction.
The new body-worn cameras are meant to protect members of the public against officer misconduct and deputies against false allegations.
Capt. Rich Urena of the West Valley Patrol Division introduced the surveillance technology to the Los Altos Hills City Council last month.
“This has been about two and a half years in the making, so we’re extremely excited that we’re able to be that transparent and have these cameras on our person,” Urena said.
The Sheriff’s Office began deploying the Axon Body 2 cameras April 10, and Urena’s division, which patrols Los Altos Hills, received its allotment April 17. Now all 79 sworn staff members have an assigned camera.
“The deputies really do like having them on,” Urena said in an interview last week. “I haven’t heard any complaints from my staff. They feel it’s part of their uniform now.”
Each deputy issued an Axon Body 2 received four hours of training in its use, Urena said. They learned that they are required to wear the cameras in conspicuous places on their bodies and that they must activate recording while performing any enforcement action, which includes traffic stops and the investigation of an incident in which there is reasonable suspicion of a crime. Most of the time, the cameras operate in “buffer” mode, meaning they’re capturing the last 30-120 seconds of video and audio activity. Once the operator pushes the center activation button, the captured information is added to the recording, and the camera continues to record and store audio and video from the remainder of the encounter.
The devices can record up to 70 hours and have a 12-hour battery life. Deputies dock them at their patrol station after each shift, and the footage is uploaded to cloud storage, where it remains for a year. Only supervisors can make copies of the footage, and Urena himself must approve the deletion of accidental recordings made by his deputies, such as when one forgets to stop recording after a work-related incident and captures a “personal event” like using the restroom.
“You may want to have that personal event deleted, and that’s understandable,” he said.
It was incidents like the August 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the August 2015 fatal beating of Santa Clara County Jail inmate Michael Tyree by guards that convinced County Supervisor Joe Simitian of the benefit of obtaining body-worn cameras for local patrol deputies and correctional officers. He proposed the purchase in December 2014, and the Board of Supervisors approved it on Jan. 24 of this year.
A five-year contract with Axon, including equipment costs, licensing, storage and contingency fees, totals $3.9 million, according to Board of Supervisors documentation. An additional $721,492 covers overtime pay for training and the salaries of four Sheriff’s Office employees tasked to administer that training.
“We can watch with anguish what’s happened in other communities around the country, shake our heads and then move on. Or, we can accept the responsibility to do something,” Simitian said in a Jan. 25 press release. “These certainly aren’t problems that are going to solve themselves. The technology is available, and I think we ought to be using it.”
Reached by phone last week, Los Altos Hills Mayor Gary Waldeck said he approves of the technology.
“It’s a personal opinion, but in today’s society, I think corroboration of one’s actions – or not – helps clear up a lot of questions,” he said. “And if they’re used the way they’re supposed to be used, I think we’ll have an overall better police response.”