Costa Mesa Police Officers to Wear Body-Worn Cameras Amid Calls For Police Reform

FERNANDO DEVERAS, Voice of OC

Protestors during the Costa Mesa demonstration on June 5, 2020.

Costa Mesa police officers will wear body-worn cameras when they are on duty as members of the community call for reforms at police departments in Orange County.

The City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday night to authorize a $1 million purchase of body-worn and in-car cameras for the city’s police department from Texas-based WatchGuard Video, Inc.

“We are expanding our in-car video system to include body-worn cameras on our personnel. This was something we were looking at already before the last several weeks because our organization and officers saw this as a tool that helps them be more effective in their everyday responsibilities,” said Costa Mesa police Chief Bryan Glass. 

He said that documentation can be used for audits, complaints and evidence. The footage captured by the cameras will go to a cloud storage system to be immediately accessible for review. 

With the council action Tuesday night, Costa Mesa now will join several other cities in the county and around the country where cops wear body cameras to film their interactions on duty. Santa Ana Police officers started to wear the cameras in 2017. Anaheim City Council members approved purchase of body cameras for the city’s police department in 2014 and Fullerton officials did the same.

In recent weeks, community members have questioned the department’s policy amid global protests over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after an officer put his knee on the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes as other officers looked on. Four officers have since been charged in the Memorial Day killing. 

One member of the public during the Tuesday night meeting thanked the police department for its restraint at protests in Costa Mesa.

“We also can’t lose sight of the fact that police showing restraint should be the norm and that the bar maybe set far too low when we feel the need to thank law enforcement for not abusing their power,” he said. “That’s a more general statement about our nationwide relationship with law enforcement. We expect them to protect us and they’re sworn to do so but we’re also expected to show unwavering support in exchange for that protection.”

“It’s really kind of the definition of an abusive relationship in a way,” he added.

Another member of the public called for the use of a community oversight committee to oversee hearings dealing with police brutality. One called in to voice support for a shift in funding away from the police department. 

In other action, the City Council voted 5-2 to adopt the proposed 2020-2021 fiscal year $163.8 million operating and capital improvement budget with council members Sandra Genis and Allan Mansoor dissenting because they still had concerns regarding spending including having a chief of staff and aides for the mayor and the council.

The budget has a close to $4 million reduction for the police as city departments are having to make cuts to deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. 

A little over 35% of the proposed budget is allocated to the police department, which is the biggest slice of the budget followed by the fire department which is allocated around 20%.

Glass said that one of the police department’s next steps is to evaluate its use of force reporting requirements. He noted the use of deadly force by officers is rare in Costa Mesa.

He said chokeholds and strangleholds are not authorized by the department, de-escalation techniques are taught during training, and officers are required to give verbal warnings before firing their weapon.

The department does not require officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting and it does not utilize the use of force continuum that would restrict greater use of force for the most extreme situations. Officers instead are trained to respond to the situation before them and react depending on its circumstances.

“Officers may use objectively reasonable force based on the considerations when deciding what level to be used based on the facts and totality of circumstances. We require officers to evaluate and use other reasonable available resources and techniques when determining whether to use deadly force,” Glass said.

He said the body-worn camera is an accountability tool and makes it easier for officers to do their job.

The current police in-car camera system is outdated and often in need of repair, according to the Costa Mesa Police Department.

“I think this is just a question for making things easier for those that are on patrol as well as making sure we’re capturing that data. We know that there are so many systems around the city at this point that are outdated and that effectively results in inefficiencies in our own system,” said council member Andrea Marr.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.