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Santa Monica Police Chief Recommends Permanent Use of Body-Worn Cameras

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 22, 2017 -- After a six-month trial run, Santa Monica police should now shift to permanent use of body-worn cameras, Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks recommended in a report to the City Council Wednesday.

Seabroooks is recommending the City purchase the equipment and data storage, provide more training for all personnel in the field and continue the ongoing review of the program’s effectiveness and community feedback.

Her recommendation goes to the City Council on Tuesday.

Seabrooks said a preliminary analysis of the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) pilot project found officers supported using the new technology, and that it had strong support in the general community.

In a survey, 77 percent of personnel “agreed that BWC equipped personnel will have a more accurate account of what transpired,” Seabrooks said.

Slightly more said BWCs “will improve officer training.”

Moreover, 68 percent of personnel said that “when wearing a BWC, a field employee will act more professionally," and 55 percent said “the use of BWCs will decrease the number of citizen complaints against officers,” Seabrooks said in the report.

“Most telling was that the majority of SMPD personnel agreed that the police benefit more from BWCs than do citizens (60 percent),” she said.

In different surveys, residents were “highly supportive of BWCs,” the report said.

Almost 40 percent supported the program, with another 44 percent “strongly” supporting the BWCs for police.

“Residents agreed that both they (65 percent) and the general public (75 percent) would have more trust in officers wearing cameras, as well as feel safer (65 percent) knowing their interactions with the police were being recorded,” the report said.

Residents also generally agreed that BWCs would have a positive influence on both officers (80 percent) and members of the public (76 percent), the chief said.

Although research about the program continues, Seabrooks said the preliminary findings “support the decision to move forward with implementing a permanent Body Worn Camera program at the Santa Monica Police Department.”

Although the SMPD was hit by two incidents involving allegations of racism by officers in rent years, Seabrooks noted the city -- small, mostly white and affluent -- has not been embroiled in the racial turmoil in other cities across the country that fueled discussion of body-worn cameras for police.

“These preliminary findings should not detract from the highly positive views the
community has towards SMPD,” she said.

Those Santa Monica residents surveyed agree that SMPD does a good job preventing crime (83 percent), promptly responds to emergency calls (90 percent), is helpful to victims (80 percent), is effective at dealing with problems that concern the public (78 percent), works together with residents to solve problems (80 percent) and deals with residents in a fair and courteous manner (85 percent).

A significant number of the survey’s respondents reported they are comfortable speaking to uniformed officers (90 percent),” the report said.

The pilot project “offered an opportunity to study the technology, assess its usefulness in Santa Monica and determine its ability to enhance the achievement of the Department’s public safety goals and objectives,” she said.

The equipment was deployed by sworn and civilian uniformed field personnel for six months in three two-month rotations.

The first started in September of 2016 and concluded in March. The following two, from November of 2016 to this March, included 18 volunteers and 12 volunteers, respectively.

Researchers from California State University, Fullerton, helped collect data and assess the program.

The report said 55 officers (sworn and civilian) took part in the pilot program by wearing a BWC while on duty. Researchers interviewed and, when possible, observed thirty-three pilot program officers use of the BWC in the field, it said.

The overwhelming majority of pilot program officers, after wearing a BWC for between two and six months, saw a significant benefit to the technology and felt that SMPD should adopt BWC for field personnel,” Seabrooks said.

“Pilot program officers remarked that the BWC made it much easier to document police–citizen interactions, as well as conditions and conduct for evidentiary purposes, though they expressed concern that the BWC might not capture everything,” the chief said.

“Some officers found that when the public noticed or were informed of the presence of the BWC their behavior changed for the better.”

“In line with these observations, all of the pilot program officers remarked on the potential of the BWCs to help protect them from unwarranted citizen complaints,” Seabrooks wrote.


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