HEBER â€“ The Imperial County Sheriffâ€™s Office and District Attorneyâ€™s Office held a community workshop Friday evening at the Office of Emergency Service in the city of Heber to discuss officers’ use of body-worn cameras and to hear community input and concerns.
The 30-minute PowerPoint presentation was conducted by Deputy Rene McNish who explained in-depth the numerous benefits body-worn cameras will provide to the community and how they will improve public safety, improve transparency and safety for both the community and law enforcement, in addition to providing valuable evidence for law enforcement.
â€œWe really want to get everyoneâ€™s opinion and their outlook on the cameras themselves,â€ said Deputy McNish. â€œWe are trying to improve the services we provide to the community, and part of that is showing what happens during routine patrol and calls for service. A lot of people have a perception of what they see on television and movie theaters of what law enforcement entails, and oftentimes that is not true.â€
Without a doubt, body-worn cameras for officers have become one of the most popular topics of discussion within the law enforcement community. The Imperial County Sheriffâ€™s Office (ICSO) has observed the accumulated evidence from other entities and is convinced that the cameras can provide an advantage that will promote transparency and improve the level of service they (ICSO) provide to the community.
Deputy McNish explained that the recent occurrences in Ferguson, Missouri have created a public outcry for better law enforcement strategies and training to improve public safety in general, and he firmly believes body-worn cameras will be paramount in achieving this goal.
ICSO deputies will receive proper training in the use of the cameras and vehicle cameras prior to issuance and deployment, McNish said. Responsibilities include ensuring the body-worn cameras and vehicle cameras are fully functional and operating properly, with personnel docking the body-worn cameras for automated upload of data files daily at the end of their shifts.
Body-worn cameras will be worn by deputies and recording at all times with the exceptions that would include interacting with victims who are anonymous witnesses/victims, victims of rape, victims involving nudity, victims in a mental ward, victims in a medical facility and victims in a restroom or dressing room.
â€œBody-worn cameras are definitely a step in the right direction. We go to some pretty intense calls where people have experienced the most dramatic situation they have ever dealt with and oftentimes we take notes. However, when the district attorney or jury read them, it truly doesnâ€™t capture the emotional state those involved are in,â€ explained McNish.
The ICSO wanted to reassure the community that only the deputy who is wearing the camera and that deputyâ€™s supervisor will be able to view the recordings when needed. All ICSO personnel are prohibited from duplicating video files (CD, DVD, cell phones, etc.). Video files will not be released, unless authorized by the Sheriff.
Evidentiary value videos will be retained for a period of two years, and Â for non-evidentiary value videos will be held 60 days.
The Imperial County Sheriffâ€™s Office (ICSO) was selected by Department of Justice and awarded $74,770 for the procurement of body-worn cameras. Prior to funding, ICSO must develop a comprehensive and well-structured policy that will cover the use of body-worn cameras. Part of developing a comprehensive policy is involving allied agencies, criminal attorneys and most importantly, the community, according to McNish.
â€œOur policy is 80% completeâ€ said McNish. â€œThe remaining twenty percent is community impute, which is what we are currently seeking.â€
According to McNish, the public can expect to see ICSO deputies wearing body-worn cameras by the end of March.
Fridayâ€™s workshop was the second of two held in the City of Heber where not even one community member attended. The first workshop was held January 20. Both workshops were intended for the unincorporated areas of El Centro, Calexico and the Township of Ocotillo.
â€œWe are planning on a third workshop in the Northern part of the county and leaning towards a weekend. Hopefully we will have a good attendance,â€ said Raymond Loera, Imperial County Sheriff-Corner.
Imperial County residents are welcomed and encouraged to express their opinions, questions or concerns regarding the body-worn cameras to Deputy Rene McNish at (760) 996-1388 or firstname.lastname@example.org