EL CENTRO — On Thursday morning the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO) held an informational meeting at the Memorial training Center concerning the recently issued deputy body-worn cameras.
As of Monday January 15, ICS officers have been utilizing the cameras while on duty.
A hundred single body cameras have been acquired by ICSO through a national grant. Only a handful of law enforcement agencies were selected throughout California, and ICSO was among those chosen.
“When we wrote the grant, we created a partnership with the Imperial County District Attorney’s office. Since we are producing this evidence for the district attorney’s office, what a better entity to form a partnership with?” said Sergeant Rene McNish of the Administrative Investigations Unit. “Ultimately that is where all this information is going to go.”
Each device can record up to 20 hours of video and is water resistant up to one meter deep.
The body cameras do not have the ability to stream back live feed to a central command center. Additionally, night vision and infrared have been avoided on purpose; the cameras are intended to capture the best view of what the deputy actually sees through a lens system that has been calibrated as close to the human retina as possible.
As of Thursday morning, 370 videos have been captured by ICS deputies. A cloud-based system stores the video information and makes it readily available to the Sheriff’s Office whenever they need it.
“These cameras can record very powerful evidence. One thing that I would like to emphasize: that this is evidence. It is not something that we as an agency will try to put on YouTube to see how many likes we can get with our video, or out it on Facebook to see how many subscribers we can get. That is not the purpose of this,” stressed McNish.
The body-worn cameras program has been created to produce evidence that will assist in securing successful prosecutions against those that are causing incidences to occur. The public demand for them has increased in recent years over questions of excessive force used by authorities.
“We do appreciate the level of sensitivity of these videos, so we are going to operate with extreme caution. We’ve met with the District Attorney’s office and we have a strong belief that we have to maintain the confidentiality of these videos. If there is an instance where we do release a video, there will be a vetting process involved to discuss whether to release the video or not,” added McNish.
Penal code 832.18 suggested the proper practices for what law enforcement agencies should do with routine videos. Videos of evidentiary value will be retained for a minimum of two years. Videos that are of non-evidentiary value can be erased after 60 days but can be elected by the ICSO to be retained for one year.
“There is an audit trail system that we are going to be very vigilant with, that on a weekly basses we are reviewing information to make sure that the videos are being properly categorized so that we can retain them for the appropriate amount of time,” said McNish.
Every deputy will go through a camera operational, procedural, and policy training. The body camera will be turned on and actively recording video and audio with every investigative contact.
Patrol officers will wear the cameras on the upper torso in an optimal area where it can record good footage of whatever is occurring in front of the deputy.
Once the camera is activated a buffering feature allows it to record 30 seconds prior to the camera being turned on. The buffered data will include video, but not audio for the first 30 seconds.
“For our agency specifically we are going to get ninety body worn cameras and the DA’s office will get 10 for the DA investigators. Our job is to serve the public, to keep them safe, and to remind them constantly that we are being vigilant,” commented McNish.
“We are always doing our best to make them feel comfortable and safe within their homes and with their property.”