Report: Complaints down since SDPD started wearing body cameras

SAN DIEGO – Nearly all the police officers patrolling the streets of San Diego are now wearing cameras on their uniforms, which could be the reason why complaints are down, according to a report scheduled to be heard by the City Council next week.

The San Diego Police Department has acquired 1,174 Axon Body cameras from Taser International of Scottsdale.

The cameras are used to record interactions with the public, and have been deployed to all geographic divisions, along with traffic, canine and reserve officers and members of the homeless outreach team, the report said.

Uniformed sergeants are beginning to receiving the devices, which were first deployed by the SDPD in 2014.

The report, set to be presented at a meeting Tuesday afternoon at the City Administration Building, showed that the number of complaints from citizens has dropped since the cameras went into use, though the data is mixed for use of force incidents. Law enforcement and city leaders had hoped that the presence of a camera would defuse tense situations.

According to the data, major complaints from the public against officers — things like discrimination, uttered racial slurs, lack of courtesy or poor service — dropped from 167 in 2013, before the cameras were deployed, to 129 last year. The number of specific allegations within the complaints fell from 341 to 194 over the same period.

Few of the worst complaints ended up being sustained after an investigation, the report said. Meanwhile, 14 percent of lesser complaints were sustained in 2013, compared to 18 percent last year.

Major use of force incidents — an officer’s use of weapons, a carotid restraint, chemical agents or tasers — fell from 3,208 to 2,682 from 2013 to last year. However, lesser incidents — brandishing a weapon, use of physical strength or a taser warning shot — increased from 8,689 to 10,883.

“The availability of body worn camera evidence has improved the ability to make conclusive findings on allegations reported by citizens,” the report said.

“Removing ambiguity in the investigation of citizen complaints helps to maintain and build upon public trust,” the report said. “The data from these studies suggest the cameras help de-escalate some situations, which results in the use of lesser controlling force in lieu of greater controlling/defending force.”

The SDPD said early camera models are in the process of being replaced by upgraded equipment, which offers better video quality and an increased buffering time from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

The cameras work by recording in a loop throughout an officer’s shift. The officer is supposed to hit a button to record an interaction with the public, which also preserves the preceding looped portion along with the public contact.

Extending the buffer portion to 2 minutes will give authorities a more extensive look at what led up to a contact.

According to the report, nearly 1.4 million videos have been uploaded to storage by the SDPD. The recordings have already filled nearly half of the 227 terabytes of storage capacity called for in a city contract with Taser that runs thru 2020.