Chula Vista police officers are now wearing body cameras in the field -- something the officers have wanted for years. In November the Chula Vista City Council approved the purchase of body cameras for 120 officers.
Around half of the 120 officers have completed training and began wearing the cameras while on patrol less than one month ago. By March, 120 officers will be wearing them while in the field.
Officer Marshall Gillon, one of the first officers to begin wearing them, said they’ll help with police transparency.
Cpt. Vern Sallee agrees.
“It also provides an accurate account so we don’t have to rely on ‘he said, she said’ arguments if there’s any dispute as to what occurred during an incident,” he said.
FOX 5 went on patrol with Officer Gillon as he responded to an alleged hit and run involving a pedestrian and made a routine traffic stop.
From the television camera angles it appeared that the woman he pulled over attempted to bribe the officer, as she waved a $20 bill near the officer several times.
But Officer Gillon said, thanks to his body camera, he could prove that she did not try to bribe him. He explained it was a misunderstanding because the woman appeared nervous as he wrote the ticket.
“No, she just had money in her hand when I walked up to the car,” he said.
The body camera video from the traffic stop FOX 5 witnessed will be uploaded to a third party website with heavy cyber security.
Because it was a non-violent, minor incident, it will only be stored for 90 days. The length of time an incident will be stored digitally will vary depending on the severity. A homicide, for example, would be stored forever.
Officer Gillon said the body cameras add another layer of comfort while on the job because they help accurately describe what happened.
It can be difficult to really capture the moments during and after a crime on paper.
“When you say someone is angry and yelling, people can interpret it for themselves what their level of yelling would be, but when you see it on video, it’s a whole ‘nother story,” Officer Gillon said.
Sallee agrees. He said the cameras will also help capture emotion and can serve as better evidence in court, as opposed to a paper police report.
“You take that evidence and you have a victim of domestic violence that you can present in court who is afraid and crying and has a scratch or bruise on their face, male or female, with frightened children in the home,” he said. “It’s incredibly powerful evidence.”
With the introduction of these new cameras also comes a change to protocol. Officers are now told to let the person they’re interacting with know that they’re on camera.
“Our policy tells the officers that as soon as it is practical, they should tell the person they’re being recorded,” Sallee said. “We don’t want it to be a secret. We want it to be known.”
Officer Gallon used this tactic in the field Thursday.
“I’m Officer Marshall Gallon from the Chula Vista Police Department. I am wearing a camera,” he said as he made a traffic stop.
Although storing the footage would cost approximately $100,000 a year, it’s a financial move the department calls priceless.