Being a police officer is a demanding and dangerous job. From minor family disagreements to life and death situations, officers always must use good judgment and sometimes must make split-second decisions about whether to use deadly force.
The ability to effectively fight crime depends on the public’s understanding of the legitimacy of the actions of police officers from minor incidents to major confrontations.
Recent incidents across the country where officers have used deadly force have created a strain between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
One way to improve relations is to implement a body camera program that provides a visual and permanent record of interactions between officers and residents.
While not a panacea, body cameras record both consensual contacts and chaotic or dangerous situations involving officers and suspects. In 2012, a study by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice involving the Las Vegas Police Department concluded:
“Body worn cameras demonstrate a police agency’s commitment to transparency and accountability and suggest the cameras also have benefits in terms of reductions in police use of force and complaints of officer misconduct.”
The improvements in camera technology since 2012 have enhanced the necessary transparency to improve relations between the public and police.
For these reasons, and despite Turlock’s severe budget challenges, I support the proposal by Chief Nino Amirfar to implement a body camera program within the Turlock Police Department.
Through extensive research, aided by his participation in the Law Enforcement Executives of Stanislaus County group, Amirfar has identified a body camera program that allows Turlock to pay the $900,000 program costs in equal installments over five years. His plan will equip up to 82 officers with body cameras and new TASERs (non-lethal weapons.)
Amirfar’s proposal includes hardware, software, warranties and the equipment necessary to store and share interactions between Turlock officers and those they interact with.
In addition to improving public confidence in our department, the program would facilitate Public Records Acts requests for police officer body camera footage from citizens, local media, courts, the District Attorney and the Public Defender as well as any other law enforcement agencies requiring video evidence.
The chief’s program also would assist the Turlock Police Department in complying with state laws governing release of information to the public.
New General Fund money would not be required to pay for the program. Rather, other funding sources such as grants administered by Amirfar would cover the costs associated with the program.
As a retired police officer who wore a body camera in my daily duties, I am very supportive of implementing this program within the department. While not perfect, cameras will document interactions between our officers and the public while enhancing the public trust of our police department.
I want to thank Amirfar for seeking Council approval of this program to improve our department’s public interaction without negatively impacting our city’s depleted General Fund.
Amy Bublak is Mayor of Turlock. She wrote this column for The Modesto Bee.