They'll be worn inside the uniform and snapped into place, with a hole cut in the center of the chest, which should provide ideal point-of-view footage. Three taps and they turn on; four and they're off. A Bluetooth wristband will also provide additional control.
VICTORVILLE — A body-worn camera pilot program at two sheriff's stations, including Apple Valley, is on track to begin in June, an official said Tuesday, marking a rapid ascension toward deployment only three weeks after county policy makers approved the year-long test run.
"It's moving pretty quick," San Bernardino County Sheriff's Project Team Leader Neil Slawson said during a presentation to the Victorville Rotary Club.
On March 7, county Supervisors approved an 18-month, $122,000 contract with Georgia-based Utility Associates Inc. for 80 cameras between Apple Valley and Highland stations — an ample timeframe to enable groundwork to be laid before patrol deputies actually begin wearing the Android-powered devices and to allow for post-deployment assessments.
Slawson revealed more information about the program Tuesday, "one of the hottest topics out there in law enforcement today," including certain specifics about the cameras themselves.
They'll be worn inside the uniform and snapped into place, with a hole cut in the center of the chest, which should provide ideal point-of-view footage. Three taps and they turn on; four and they're off. A Bluetooth wristband also will provide additional control.
Captured footage is sent by a router to Amazon cloud storage and then can be replayed by station captains, watch commanders or any other authorized personnel, or the footage can be watched in real time, providing authorities with a unique ability to see on-the-ground incidents as they occur.
While the manual camera turn-on is the primary trigger that will be utilized, other initiating options include vehicle key ignition, a deputy running, a shotgun rack or a deputy down (when the deputy is horizontal).
"Those are some of the triggers we'll be kicking around," Slawson said.
On the cusp for years, Sheriff's officials here tried cameras on deputies in Victorville and Rancho Cucamonga between February 2012 and May 2013 with mixed results. Then in 2014, a committee formed to vet the feasibility of this pilot program. While the costs and functionality of the hardware had seldom been seen as a hurdle, figuring out the back-end software, storage requirements and unparalleled intricacies have, until recently, handcuffed momentum.
For instance, Sheriff's officials have been working on policies regarding retention and activation, with an eye on protecting the privacy of innocent bystanders. Software will be able to blur out faces, tattoos and other identifying factors with just the checkmark of boxes — a process that also will cost less than manual redaction, Slawson said.
It'll also be impossible to edit videos without it indicating that footage was edited.
Body-worn cameras, which officials have suggested will tell the whole story — a reference to the surge of bystander cell phone footage in recent years — might also protect deputies in a more direct way.
One element of the officer-down trigger is to immediately send an alert to a local dispatch center, and because the deputy's location is tracked by GPS, it'll enable authorities to respond to a threat or emergency faster.
Future benefits or utilizations could include evidence scene photography, interviews and be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) notifications.
Slawson said he's recently visited the Long Beach Police Department, which launched a pilot in November with the same company, and "it's being well received at an officer level."
Officers have told him they feel the cameras protect them from wrongful complaints, he said.
Yet, the accountability aspect is admittedly a two-sided coin. After a television news camera captured deputies beating Apple Valley resident Francis Pusok following a wild horseback chase in April 2015 — an incident that led to three deputies being charged with assault — calls for a body-worn camera pilot program grew louder.
Third District Supervisor James Ramos, who was one of two supervisors to urge exploration of the program, has even now volunteered to ride along with deputies once the cameras go live.
Following the year-long deployment, a subcommittee will review the cameras' effectiveness and deputy feedback before any decisions are made to potentially outfit the department's more than 1,800 sworn-in members.
One evaluation criteria, Slawson noted, will be prosecution rates in camera versus non-camera cases.
Shea Johnson can be reached at 760-955-5368 or SJohnson@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DP_Shea.