Sheriff’s union sues to stop body cameras

Riverside County’s largest and most powerful public safety union has sued the sheriff’s department in an effort to stop a pilot program that would have tested body cameras for the possibility of widespread use.

Body camera testing had not yet begun at the Jurupa Valley Sheriff’s Station, but now it it is unclear if it will ever start at all. If this pilot program ends before it begins, it would be a major blow to any efforts to bring body cameras to deputies throughout the Coachella Valley.

Earlier this month, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association asked a county judge to halt the Jurupa Valley pilot program, insisting that it violates an agreement that requires the sheriff’s department to negotiate with union officials over any changes to deputy duties.

The sheriff’s department argues that the pilot program tests body cameras with volunteers only, so negotiations with the union were not unnecessary.

A court hearing is scheduled for March 9.

In a statement issued Friday, the sheriff’s department continued to defend the body camera program as being in the best interest of everyone.

“Cameras are tools that clearly benefit officers, the public and the county by all current accounts,” the statement said. “Body cameras are an effective, reliable and affordable method of gathering evidence to support criminal prosecutions. Additionally, if people know officers are wearing body cameras, they expect their actions will be captured on video.

“As a result they will be less likely to falsely accuse or attack officers. That keeps everyone safer.”

Robert Masson, president of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, declined to comment. He directed all questions to a union attorney, who could not be reached for an interview Friday afternoon.

Riverside County Sheriff’s Department vehicle.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Department vehicle. (Photo: Desert Sun file photo)
Body cameras are attached to patrol officer in order to capture a video feed of their actions on the job. Although these cameras can be used to record evidence for investigations, they are primarily seen as a way to monitor and verify the behavior of officers.

Body camera footage can be used to confirm — or dismiss — allegations of officer misconduct.

In a political climate where many Americans have grown to distrust police, body cameras are often seen as the best way to hold officers accountable.

Body cameras are not widely used by police in the Coachella Valley, where five of the cities are policed by the sheriff’s department.

However, if the tests in Jurupa Valley were successful, they may have led to the spread of cameras throughout the county, including into the valley. According to the sheriff’s department, some deputies have voluntarily used cameras for years and many stations already have procedures in place for the use of cameras.

The union’s lawsuit also could have countywide ramifications, as the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association positions have traditionally been mirrored by other police unions across the desert.

The association — which represents more than 2,900 employees, including deputies, prosecutors and probation officers — is arguably the most influential bargaining group in Riverside County.

Over the years, it has maintained that prominence by investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into political campaigns and ballot efforts that association leaders believe will benefit their members.

Palm Springs pilot

Although the RSA lawsuit may bring a halt to the body camera program in Jurupa Valley, at least one desert police agency is inching towards a pilot of its own.

Palm Springs City Manager David Ready said Friday that city leaders and Police Chief Al Franz have held several informal discussions with the Palm Springs police union about a body camera pilot program.

“At this point, we believe that we can work through a few of the issues that may be a problem so we can implement a pilot program,” Ready said.

“I haven’t seen any negative reaction form the police union. Everyone seems very willing to see how we could proceed with a pilot program.”

The city hopes to launch the body camera pilot program sometime this year, Ready said.

Dave Nyczepir contributed to this story. Public Safety reporter Brett Kelman can be reached by phone at (760) 778-4642, by email at brett.kelman@desertsun.com, or on Twitter @TDSbrettkelman.

http://www.desertsun.com/story/news/crime_courts/2015/01/30/sheriff-department-body-cameras/22618343/