Chula Vista Police Defines Its Body Camera Policy

The Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD) is expanding the number of body cameras available for the force and defining when and where officers use the devices.

The Chula Vista City Council approved funds to add a dozen new cameras to the CVPD’s current stock of 120.

“Those 120 cameras have served us well in the ensuing months,” said CVPD Capt. Vern Sallee. “However we've actually started building up our staff and realized that very shortly we are going to run out of cameras to deploy.”

The body cameras are not new to the department, which started testing the technology in 2010. But this year, after careful study, the CVPD decided to put its official body camera policy into place.

At issue in some cities is when to turn on the cameras. The San Diego Police Department underwent a change to its policy after an officer failed to activate his body camera before a deadly confrontation.

To develop its procedures, the CVPD worked with the ACLU, community groups and police unions. The department also looked at model policies at other agencies and took advice from police chiefs across the nation.

“So we took the best of what was out there that fit our community and fit our agency, took all that input and put it together,” said Sallee.

CVPD Capt. Lon Turner described when officers are required to switch on their cameras: “It's during anticipated enforcement. Any time an arrest is being made, officers responding to a call for help, a traffic stop, a field interview where somebody is acting suspiciously, that would be the appropriate time to turn on the body worn camera.”

Turner said the cameras are off at other times to protect citizens' privacy and allow people to approach officers and share information without worrying about being recorded.

Videos are only kept for 90 days, unless there is a criminal investigation. Turner said the video taken from body worn cameras are not technically subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Acts, but there may be exceptions.

“However there may be points and times, with the authority of the chief of police, we can disclose that, if we were compelled to do so or we felt it was in the public’s best interest to see the video,” he said.

The city has authorized $500,000 over five years to Taser International for the cameras and support systems. The most expensive part is storing video, which costs $80,000, but the department says the trust it builds with the community is worth the price tag.

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