The San Jose City Council has given a unanimous go-ahead to a third pilot program for police body cameras. The program proposed by San Jose Police Chief Larry Esquivel -- involving a dozen officers -- would compare several different cameras before the department moves ahead with obtaining devices for possible deployment in late 2016.
It's not exactly a trend-setting move, especially as other police departments in the Bay Area and California have already deployed the cameras, including Oakland and BART --- a move the transit agency made after an officer killed train passenger Oscar Grant on Jan. 1, 2009.
"We recognize that police accountability is a rising concern nationwide," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo before the vote to approve the proposal for the pilot program. But, he added, "The technology's not cheap." Hundreds of cameras must be purchased, and the data collected must be stored and archived for retrieval.
Esquivel estimates it would cost $1 million to outfit everybody on patrol with a camera. The hope is that, with the Obama administration and some members of Congress taking up the call to equip officers with cameras, a good chunk of the money would come from the federal government
While some individual police officers and departments have been resistant to body-worn cameras, others see them as a protection to law enforcement. A Justice Department study in the San Bernardino County city of Rialto found the number of citizen complaints against officers dropped by 88 percent in one year after that department started using the cameras.
“Whether the reduced number of complaints was because of the officers behaving better or the citizens behaving better — well, it was probably a little bit of both," the report quoted Rialto Police Chief William Farrar as saying.
Liccardo said he's looking to the bottom line as well on this score. He noted that the city gets many legal claims every year from people alleging police misconduct. (The city police auditor's report on 2014 misconduct allegations noted 340 citizen complaints.)
"Some of those claims are legitimate," Liccardo said. "Some of them are from claimants who are simply looking to get paid off. We want to ensure we've got real accountability on both sides."
After initial skepticism, the American Civil Liberties Union is cautiously optimistic about body cameras, provided that the "right" policies are in place. There are privacy concerns, especially in instances like domestic disputes or sexual violence where minors are involved. The Justice Department has been writing up guidelines for police use.
San Jose police tested cameras in 2009 and 2012. So when the upcoming pilot is done, the city will have plenty of research to pull from before making its final call.