The Anaheim City Council Tuesday night approved spending $1.1 million on body cameras for police officers, a step city leaders hope will improve community trust in the police department.
The money will pay for 250 small box shaped cameras from Arizona-based TASER International, Inc., to be worn on officers’ chests during contacts with individuals. Officials say the cameras, which have been in a pilot testing phase since 2013, provide accountability on both sides if there is a confrontation.
“It’s a big step forward for us,” said Councilwoman Gail Eastman, adding that the body cameras will tell the “real story” if there are controversial encounters with police.
Two years ago, back-to-back lethal police shootings of two young Latino men sparked outrage and a downtown riot of mostly Latino youth, shattering trust between the police department and the working-class Latino community.
Since then, the city has hired its first Latino police chief, Raul Quezada, and has taken other steps to improve accountability and relations with the community. Officers have been using personal audio recorders for more than a year, according to a staff report.
At least one study conducted at the Rialto Police Department found that use-of-force incidents dropped dramatically after the cameras were in place, according to the Orange County Register.
The study found a "60 percent reduction in use-of-force incidents by officers using the cameras and an 88 percent decrease in public complaints," the newspaper reported.
The city has also moved forward with a police civilian review board, a proposal by Mayor Tom Tait that was well received by residents, though some complained it was toothless. The city's police union and former mayor turned lobbyist Curt Pringle opposed the civilian review board. Pringle recorded a robocall attacking Tait for proposing the board.
Residents who spoke at the meeting supported the body cameras but expressed outrage at what they say is continued abuse by the police department.
“I’m glad to see we’re finally going to get the body cams we needed so badly,” said Donna Acevedo, a council candidate whose son, Joel Acevedo was shot and killed by police during a pursuit in 2012. “Are the people going to be able to see those body cams when there’s a complaint?”
The answer to Acevedo’s question is no, according to Quezada.
Residents will not be able to view the videos of the most controversial encounters with police, including police shootings or incidents where there was a citizen complaint. Those videos will be locked away under personnel and investigative exemptions, Quezada told a reporter after the meeting.
The civilian public safety review board also cannot view the video but will instead rely on reports from the city’s independent investigator, Michael Gennaco of the Office of Independent Review, about what the video shows, according to Quezada.
And what exactly Gennaco can share with the board about the video may also be limited, Quezada said.
Civilian oversight is effectively shut down by the state’s Police Officers Bill of Rights. Those limits were enshrined by the 2006 Copley Press v. Superior Court decision, a ruling against the San Diego Union-Tribune's request for transcripts and other documents relating to a San Diego Civil Service Commission hearing on the termination of a San Diego County sheriff's deputy.
However, Quezada said the cameras do allow for incident investigators to get a more complete story. And he said when there’s a chance to brief the community with information provided by the cameras, he will take it.
“Any opportunity I have to defuse the situation without compromising the investigation, absolutely,” Quezada said.