While police across the nation are starting to pick up on the ability for trending technologies to be used in law enforcement, Belmont police will soon be some of the first in the Bay Area to be fitted with wearable video cameras.
The Belmont City Council approved the purchase of 30 video recorders that will help officers improve transparency and trust within the community, reduce the amount of false complaints against the department and enhance criminal convictions, said Belmont police Capt. Tony Psaila.
“It helps us really in many different ways. If you look at the prosecution of cases, it definitely increases the likelihood of success, because you’re getting accurate and compelling evidence. Sometimes you’ll have hearsay comments or concerns, (but) when you have it on tape, there really isn’t a question as to who said what,” Psaila said.
The department will start with 15 Axon Flex Camera Video Recorder systems made by TASER International. The small cameras can be clipped onto a policeman’s collar, lapel or glasses, Psaila said. A month or two later, they’ll purchase the remainder and the program will hopefully be fully implemented by August, Psaila said.
“It’s really coming to age, so to speak. A lot of agencies are going to go to the officer-worn video recorders. It definitely has its advantages compared to the vehicle-mounted systems [which] are somewhat limited so you have a limited vision,” Psaila said.
Belmont doesn’t have vehicle-mounted cameras but, with the speed at which technology progresses, Psaila said they thought it would be best to purchase the most innovative.
“We thought it would be best to go straight to the officer-worn video just based on the advantages it offers,” Psaila said. “We wanted to make sure that we’re spending wisely. Technology is constantly advancing and we don’t want to get something outdated. We wanted to get something that’s cutting edge.”
With increasing concerns over vehicle-mounted license plate readers and the sale of the data gathered, Psaila said the Axon cameras have special dock stations that upload the recordings to an account with strict firewalls and will only be accessible to the Belmont Police Department.
Another critical feature is the camera’s ability to record 30 seconds of video prior to when an officer turns the camera on, Psaila said.
“You can be in the middle of a situation and at the point when you’ve decided to turn your video camera on, you may be at the point where something has already occurred,” Psaila said.
Although Belmont doesn’t receive many complaints against its police department, studies have shown the cameras significantly reduce the amount of frivolous lawsuits, Psaila said.
For many departments, equipment like wearable video cameras can be cost prohibitive, Psaila said. The first 15 cameras were estimated at about $17,000 and about $14,000 for the remaining 15, according to a staff report. There are also ongoing costs that include the battery charging docking stations as well as annual online storage costs, Psaila said.
Belmont is a small city and purchasing this kind of equipment, which benefits both the department and the public, aligns with the high level of service it aims to provide, Mayor Warren Lieberman said.
“This decision is kind of keeping with that. We’re trying to be certainly adaptive and use technology where we can so it improves the ability of the police officers to do their job. So we try to be a very progressive department,” Lieberman said.
Like many other Bay Area police departments, Psaila said Belmont also makes full use of social media including Twitter, NextDoor and its new department website to connect with residents.
The department currently has 35 sworn officers and the goal is to have all of the patrol officers wearing the cameras with potentially having detectives equipped later on, Psaila said.
“It’s great for the community too in so many ways. Because it really helps us with transparency, there’s advantages as far as reduced frivolous lawsuits against the police department, it reduces court time and prosecutors burden when convicting folks. … It documents traffic violations, citizens’ behavior during and incident so the jury can later see,” Psaila said. “Again, you have the transparency so the public can see exactly what happened and I think that’s very important these days.”
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