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Santa Monica Police Assessing Body Cameras’ Effectiveness


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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

June 2, 2017 -- The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) completed a six-month pilot program in March in which some officers and civilian personnel wore body cameras. And now the department is working with researchers at Cal State Fullerton to determine the effectiveness of those cameras.

This research could lead to permanent usage of the body cameras.

“A comprehensive and measured evaluation is underway to assess the pilot program’s effectiveness in terms of legislative requirements, the needs of the police department, and community expectations,” the SMPD wrote on its website.

The statement continues, “Following the post-pilot surveying effort, all data and information collected will be evaluated to determine the feasibility of permanently implementing the [body camera] program.”

While this research is taking place, SMPD personnel, both those who were and were not involved in the pilot program, have the option of continuing to use body cameras.

The SMPD did not specify how many people, if any, took up this option.

The body camera program was announced last summer and began in September. The SMPD has never said why it decided to initiate the program.

SMPD Senior Administrative Analyst Nicole Dibling-Moore specified in an August memo to the City Council that it was not due to a failed relationship between the department and the community.

That has been the case for several cities that have implemented body camera programs on either a trial or permanent basis.

Dibling-Moore wrote that the SMPD and the community have a good relationship that works “to foster a strong sense of respect, trust, and collaboration.”

That might be relatively true, but the the relationship is not perfect as shown through a couple of high-profile incidents involving interactions between SMPD officers and African-Americans.

In April 2015, Justin Palmer complained of excessive force when he was arrested at a Virginia Avenue Park electric car charging station. A portion of the incident was recorded on a cellphone camera.

He filed a lawsuit, and a federal jury sided with Palmer (“Jury Awards $1.1 Million in Excessive Force Case Against Santa Monica Police,” September 7, 2016).

Later in 2015, corporate executive Fay Wells wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying she had been swarmed by officers after needing a locksmith to get into her home where she had accidentally been locked out.

Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks responded that the department had acted appropriately to what was believed to be a robbery (“Santa Monica Police Chief Defends Officers Against New Claim of Racial Profiling,” November 20, 2015).


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