Sheriff outlines policy for body cams

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is getting very close to equipping its deputies with body-worn cameras.

During a presentation to the Thousand Oaks City Council on Oct. 20, Sheriff Geoff Dean said it was his intention to have deputies wearing the recording devices by the end of the year.

“The bottom line is we want the best picture about what happened out there,” said Dean, whose officers provide police services to the City of Thousand Oaks, one of the department’s five contract cities.

The department began researching the cameras in June 2014 and field-tested them in its Ojai and Thousand Oaks stations from February through March this year.

“We ran them through their paces in a variety of different scenarios,” Cmdr. Tim Hagel, Thousand Oaks police chief, said after the meeting. “Fit was huge, so was battery use. Now it’s a matter of which product do you pick.”

After trying a variety of styles, including some worn on lapels and on glasses or sunglasses, the department is going with a box-style camera that’s worn in the middle of the chest.

With regard to when officers will turn the cameras on, Dean told the Thousand Oaks council, “Our policy will read, whenever you have a law-enforcement related contact, you’ll turn it on.”

Video captured by the body cameras will automatically be saved in the department’s system, with data stored in the cloud via a third-party, FBI-approved company.

“If something happens and the officer says, ‘Boy, I’m not really sure I want this video out there’—too bad,” Dean said.

Even at the top level, officials can’t legally delete the data. The department is required by law to retain all video for at least two years, the sheriff said.

Don’t expect to see any of the footage, though. In most cases, the video won’t be released to the public.

“Our position and the state attorney general for California’s position is that it’s investigative information, and that’s how we’re going to keep it,” Dean said. “We’re not going to release it to the general public.”

The main reason Dean gave for not wanting to make the videos public: privacy.

“Unfortunately, your officers see a lot of things that are very, very private, and they’re not seeing people at their best moment, and there are things the general public doesn’t need to see,” he told the council.

As examples of the type of situations police deal with regularly where it wouldn’t be appropriate to have the general public watching footage, Dean cited deputies responding to child molestation cases, sexual assaults and family fights.

The exception would be releasing video when it benefits an investigation, he said.

The cameras, along with the data storage service, are expected to cost a hefty amount, which will be shared among the contract cities and the county.

Despite the cameras’ steep price tag, Dean said, they are a wise investment, as they protect both the department and the public.

“Agencies that use the body camera have seen a significant reduction of complaints, reduction of use of force incidents, reduction of time spent investigating incidents and reduction of court overtime,” Dean said.

“The criminals are just pleading out because it’s not a he said/ she said; it’s all right there as video evidence.”

The deputies seem to be on board.

While representatives of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association declined to comment on the move, Hagel gave his take.

“I can’t speak for all the patrol officers, but I believe it’s a good thing, our department thinks it’s a good thing and our nation thinks it’s a good thing,” the chief said. “If it’s good for the community and good for the nation, our deputies are flexible and want to do what’s best.”