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SANTEE, Calif. — Deputies at a San Diego County jail have begun wearing body cameras on the job, a new policy that will eventually expand to all facilities operated by the sheriff’s department.

The deputies debuting the new program work at Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee, the primary jail for women prisoners in the region. Seventy-two deputies, supervisors and other officials who work at the detention center started wearing the body cameras Feb. 25.

San Diego deputies have worn body cameras on patrol since 2017. In a news release, the sheriff’s department said introducing them to local jails “has always been the goal.”

The pilot program took effect about three weeks after a scathing report from the state auditor found officials in county jails had “failed to adequately prevent and respond to” an unusually high number of inmate deaths in their facilities.

In the release, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department described the Las Colinas program as “the first phase of implementation,” with surveys and feedbacks from participants eventually shaping the policies and training used when the cameras are introduced at all of their local jails.

“Video footage provides critical evidence for investigation of incidents and resolution of complaints,” officials wrote. “Body-worn cameras will supplement stationary cameras and other systems at detention facilities.”

Because jails are not public places, there are specific guidelines for when the deputies should and should not activate their cameras, officials said. Those rules state that authorities will activate the bodycams when they:

  • Move an inmate from one area to another
  • Enter a cell, housing or holding area where incarcerated people are present
  • Are overseeing the intake process, including booking
  • Search housing areas or cells
  • Supervise inmates on work duty
  • Move inmates in or out of vehicles

For privacy purposes, there are other situations where deputies are specifically advised not to turn on their cameras, including during invasive searches and in bathrooms or showers.

The state auditor report raised “concerns about underlying systemic issues” at the seven local detention facilities where 185 inmates died between 2006 and 2020, an unusually high rate among comparable jail systems.

A designated room houses San Diego County sheriff's deputies' body cameras and docking stations at Las Colinas jail in Santee. (Photo: San Diego County Sheriff's Department)
A designated room houses San Diego County sheriff’s deputies’ body cameras and docking stations at Las Colinas jail in Santee. (Photo: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department)

“Our review identified deficiencies with how the Sheriff’s Department provides care for and protects incarcerated individuals (that) likely contributed to in-custody deaths,” Auditor Michael Tilden wrote, describing the department’s response as “inadequate.”

A federal class-action lawsuit against the county, the sheriff’s department and other agencies has followed in the wake of the report.

The sheriff’s department said it takes the audit’s findings seriously and vowed to take action in a variety of ways. In announcing the body camera rollout, officials presented the program as a way to build trust and ensure better outcomes.

“This is ultimately about the safety of the people in our custody and those who work in our facilities,” Acting Sheriff Kelly Martinez said in a statement. “Having body cameras in our jails will also strengthen our relationship with the community by increasing accountability and trust.”

The move will require investments at each facility: Officials added a designated room at Las Colinas to house docking stations for cameras and added infrastructure at the facility to make the necessary electrical and network improvements.

The department did not provide a specific timeline for rolling out the program to all detention centers.