SDPD chief Shelley Zimmerman
The City of San Diego wants body cameras for all uniformed police officers. On Thursday, November 12, city councilmembers sitting on the Public Safety Committee are expected to authorize spending another $1.85 million to purchase additional cameras for the coming years and extending the contract with TASER International, the company that manufacturers and sells the cameras.
If approved, the total contract amount over six years will increase to $5.8 million.
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According to a staff report, San Diego is poised to become the "largest city in the nation to implement body worn cameras."
Currently, 945 officers in San Diego wear the cameras while on duty. If the contract extension is approved, that number will rise to nearly 1100 by 2020.
Lights, camera, inaction
And while San Diego's police department has stated its commitment to having its officers record interactions with the public, it is unclear if the public will ever have the privilege of viewing the footage.
San Diego police chief Shelley Zimmerman told local journalists she would release police videos only to quell the potential for riots, according to an interview she gave to NBC 7 San Diego's Paul Krueger and as reported by Voice of San Diego in September of this year.
“It could be again for public safety. It could be, as we have seen in other cities where public safety is at risk, where people are damaging property, assaulting people, in a riot type situation. There could be exceptions, yes. And that’s where you’d have to weigh the public safety versus the due process of whoever that individual is.”
More cameras, less complaints
Data shows that members of the public have submitted fewer complaints to the department when police officers have their cameras on, according to a September 8 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. At the same time, however, the report shows that the use of force by the same officers increased by 10 percent.
Zimmerman emphasized her intent to not release the footage, unless to quell a riot, in an interview with the paper's editorial board.
Civil-rights groups such as the Americans for Civil Liberties Union support the use of body cameras, but the group has concerns as to how to balance the public's rights to the footage.
A March 2015 report by the ACLU reads in part:
"Body cameras are not justified for use by government officials who do not have the authority to conduct searches and make arrests, such as parking enforcement officers, building inspectors, teachers, or other non-law enforcement personnel.
"Police officers have the authority, in specific circumstances, to shoot to kill, to use brutal force, and to arrest people — and all too often, abuse those powers. The strong oversight function that body cameras promise to play with regards to police officers makes that deployment of the technology a unique one.
"For other officials, the use of body cameras does not strike the right balance between the oversight function of these cameras and their potential intrusiveness."