General Crime

Santa Clara County Supervisors Approve Study on Use of Body Cameras Worn by Sheriff’s Deputies

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The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors today approved a motion to have its staff prepare a report on the possibility of equipping sheriff’s deputies with body-worn cameras while on duty. The supervisors voted 5-0 at the board chambers in San Jose in favor of the proposal by Supervisor Joe Simitian to study the feasibility of deploying body-worn cameras for deputies at an unspecified future date.

Sheriff Laurie Smith, who attended the meeting, said her department plans to discuss issues dealing with body-worn cameras with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Santa Clara County, the labor union representing deputies, on Thursday. Simitian said that he wanted to ask for the report given current national controversies over whether police officers have abused criminal suspects. “It’s been a difficult year for law enforcement, struggling with what I think are difficult questions surrounding use of force, community-police relations and certainly the questions of race and class,” Simitian said.

The presence of the cameras would assist in the potential prosecution of deputies accused of misconduct as well as defending deputies wrongly accused of it, Simitian said. “If we have video evidence about what happened, I think it would be fair to all,” he said. The county already has some experience related to video camera use by law enforcement, including discussions by District Attorney Jeff Rosen and the Santa Clara County Police Chiefs’ Association about potential protocols for deploying them, Simitian said. Smith also proposed about a year ago using funds from a sales tax measure passed by voters to pay for body cameras worn by deputies, he said.

Supervisor Dave Cortese, who voted for the study, said he was concerned about the “mind boggling” privacy issues associated with the videos the police cameras would take and what parts of the videos should be redacted to prevent unauthorized releases. Supervisor Cindy Chavez said that some people in the community might not feel comfortable reporting emergencies, such as those related to domestic violence, if deputies wear a camera and could see the videos as intrusions on their families. Simitian said it was best to have a plan and a set of policies in place on the operation of any body cameras worn by deputies before any of the devices are actually purchased. “I think it’s more important to do it right than to do it fast,” he said.

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