San Diego officers testing wearable cameras

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SAN DIEGO — Police patrolling San Diego’s inner city will be the first in the department equipped with cameras that record their interactions with the public, Chief Shelley Zimmerman said Wednesday.

Chest-mounted cameras are being tested on 10 officers now in the Central Division in the downtown area, and shoulder-worn cameras will undergo trials soon, Zimmerman told members of the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 5.44.03 PM“These officers are on all different shifts and they include bicycles as well as regular patrol officers,” Chief Zimmerman said.

The chief said the uniform camera program will be launched in the Central, Southeast and Mid-City divisions, but a start date has not been determined.

“If everything goes as planned — no other unforeseen challenges out there — we are very hopeful that we’ll have those three divisions by the end of this fiscal year,” Zimmerman said. The fiscal year ends June 30. In total we’re looking at about 1,000 officers.”

Currently, $1 million approved funding will be allocated towards Central, Mid-City and South Eastern Divisions.  Depending on funding for next year, it remains to see how many other divisions will be included.

She said when officers turn the cameras on, they will record a continuous 30-second video loop. The officers will hit another button to start more extensive recording when they initiate public contacts. The loop system will provide the history of the half-minute leading up to the interaction.

At the end of a shift, officers will load the cameras into a dock at the police station, where their recordings will be uploaded. One of the challenges has been the varying length of time it takes the test cameras to transfer data when the officers are ready to go home, according to the chief.

“We have seen some challenges with the infrastructure of uploading the film at the end of the shift,” said Chief Zimmerman.

Zimmerman said a policy on the use of the cameras will be developed within 30 to 45 days.

Among the issues to be explored are whether the recordings will be a public record accessible to the citizenry, or whether those needed for evidence or that involve ongoing investigations will need to be kept confidential.

She said the plan is for officers to not record interviews with victims of child abuse or sexual assault, or situations that obviously require privacy.

Enforcement stops — traffic stops, field interviews and arrests — will be recorded, the chief said. Each interaction will be labeled with a citation number or case number so it can be searched, she said.

The plan to use cameras was spurred, in part, by allegations of sexual misconduct by San Diego police officers and public complaints of racial profiling.

The San Diego chapter of the ACLU said body cameras could be a real win-win, but only with the right policy and procedures in place.

“The policies put into place protect public safety, public privacy as well as officer safety and officer privacy,” said Jeff Wergeles, ACLU.

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