Body cameras to increase public trust

Chico City Council member Randall Stone. Photo courtesy of Randall Stone

The Chico Police Department is debating on whether its officers should wear a video cameras as an effective tool in policing efforts.

In the wake of police brutality issues in the U.S. and an incident caught on video involving Butte County Sheriff’s Deputy Sam Burnett kicking a man in the head who was kneeling, the Chico Police Department wants body cameras to ensure public trust in its officers.

“The allegations of excessive force go way down when the cameras are in use,” said Randall Stone, Chico City Council member.

Chico police officers welcomed the idea of cameras during its community advisory board meeting, Oct. 15.

“I’m in favor of the cameras and most of the officers here are too — most times they exonerate the officers,” said Lt. Dave Britt of the Chico Police Department. “It shows I did everything right.”

The American Civil Liberties Union will fund the camera program, said Chris Constantine, Chico’s administrative services director. However, the union recommended cameras be recording at all times.

The Chico Police Department said it could hinder citizens’ willingness to approach officers when sharing anonymous or personal information, and it could be too intrusive when officers handle intimate matters.

Using the cameras could be intrusive of people’s privacy, and the videos could tamper with the legal process if it was released early to the public, which can affect the outcome of the trial, Stone said.

The videos would be stored on a web-based server. Butte County law enforcement officials and the district attorney will then implement a countywide policy concerning:

  • Balance of private and public release
  • Retention periods
  • Camera operation policy
  • Public expectations

Almost all the videos will be available online for public viewing with the exception of those that would compromise the legal process or if it is too emotionally painful to the resident being recorded, Britt said.

Chico police looked into other departments that have already implemented the program.

Based off programs in Tucson, Arizona, it is estimated that the costs for Chico can be more than $1 million dollars, according to the press release.

The cameras itself could cost up to $3,900 each unit, Stone said.

The cameras come in different forms that attach to different parts of the body. Some of the more common cameras today are seen clipped onto officers’ shoulders or their chest. There are also eyeglass cameras.

During the board meeting, community members asked whether body cameras will reduce crime statistics.

Chico police Lt. Mike O’Brien said it’s unknown if the video cameras will reduce overall crime but that it can possibly reduce complaints and assaults against officers.

Robert Engels can be reached at [email protected] or @sullayyy on Twitter.