Photo courtesy: Riverside County Sheriff’s Department
Courtesy of the Riverside Sheriff’s Department
Update as of May 7, 2015:
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department began the latest ongoing testing of the use of body worn cameras (BWC) at our Jurupa Valley Station on March 16, 2015. The testing is designed to solicit confidential feedback about the usage and effectiveness of devices in a field setting by making these devices available voluntarily to members of three different county labor groups, RSA (deputies, corporals, and investigators), LEMU (sergeants), and LIUNA 777 (community service officers). Those participating are providing confidential surveys about their experience using BWCs for management’s consideration in reaching any final decisions about the use of BWCs and governing policies. The Sheriff’s Department has over 300 BWCs in use, and has conducted testing for nearly 7 years. The Jurupa Valley Station is the latest and largest testing effort to date, and involves the very latest technology; over the past 7 years the BWCs have decreased in size, increased in high definition capability, increased storage capability and battery life, and dramatically dropped in cost as technology in this particular arena has rapidly exploded.
A total of 139 personnel have volunteered to participate in the Jurupa Valley Station program, now about 6 weeks old; only 3 members of the station have voluntarily opted not to participate.
The “Vievu“ brand body worn camera is an ultra-durable on-officer camera designed to balance both simplicity and performance. Continued testing is expected to last an additional 45 days. Without disclosing any details of the confidential input and surveys, initial results show that the BWCs have enthusiastically embraced by participating Sheriff’s personnel at our Jurupa Valley Station.
Since the beginning of the testing phase, Jurupa Valley Station administration has encouraged all participants to provide weekly anonymous and forthright feedback, both individual and collective, of their use of the BWC. The ongoing survey feedback questions are designed to capture our staff’s candid opinions and experiences on their ability to both deploy the BWC effectively coupled with the operational aspects of routine processes like downloading and retrieval procedures at the end-of-shift. Participants have rated the BWC very highly in most areas. Staff continue to use their discretion on filming incidents they deem appropriate, but BWC’s have been found to be powerful tools used by station’s patrol staff to calm situations down rather dramatically-and this has accelerated their optional use in routine calls of all types. The public is well aware of the cameras being used in the station’s area of service and ask questions about the devices, easily noticed on our staff’s uniforms.
Although not originally envisioned, personnel at the investigator rank assigned to the station’s detective bureau have now asked to be included in the ongoing testing of BWCs, further expanding their use in the test period while receiving information about the devices on a confidential basis to encourage forthrightness. BWCs have been tested by a few investigators utilizing cameras to film interviews and citizen contacts in areas away from the station. Staff working in the following assignments at the Jurupa Valley Station are currently volunteering to participate in using the BWCs: patrol, special enforcement team, traffic team, and the school resource officer team.
The ongoing testing process at Jurupa Valley Station has also revealed a few areas identified for improvement or modification to any final BWC decision or policy. The vendor continues to work closely with our Technical Services Bureau personnel to resolve any minor remaining issues or concerns. Staff have also been adapting to the BWCs on their uniforms and while on duty.
Overall, participants in the testing program overwhelmingly report positive feedback and enjoy having the option to be equipped with a BWC while working patrol related duties. Our staff are directly involved in the ongoing development and refinement of the station’s BWC SOP, and the station’s efforts and “lessons learned” will be incorporated into the Department’s finalized policies and procedures before Sheriff Stan Sniff makes the decision to either expand their use or mandate department-wide patrol use of BWCs. The Sheriff’s Department also continues to monitor lessons learned from other agencies testing BWC’s as well.
The Sheriff continues to believe that the use of BWC technology will provide value in enhancing officer safety, officer accountability, reduction of liability, assist with prosecution and case resolution, and further promote professionalism and accountability with the communities we serve. These devices are also expected to enhance community policing methods and strengthen relationships with the public and law enforcement. But the Sheriff also repeatedly warns that they are not a “panacea” in reducing liability or making incidents always clearer.
The use of body worn camera information is freely allowed by deputies in preparation of their routine reports, just as any other information maintained by our deputies is utilized. The only narrow exceptions to that procedure are “critical incidents” that involve in-custody death/injuries and officer-involved shootings or the use of deadly force, where the Department must lawfully conduct objective and credible investigations of our involved officers and staff. A major concern about providing video camera information to deputies involved in a critical incident before they report it, is that it can be argued to undermine the credibility and objectivity of those investigations. This could subject the Department and every officer to allegations that their reports or statements were coached by reviewing the video, rather than documenting their own perception of the incident.
The Sheriff’s Department continues to believe strongly that the conduct of its investigations-especially in the areas of the use of deadly force-must have credibility and objectivity to the public we serve as well as best serving the interests of the department and its deputies. This is especially critical in the context recently of the national discussions on creditability, transparency and accountability of law enforcement agencies to the very communities we serve. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department views this as critical, and has staked out the “high moral ground” on one of the key issues of the day across our nation in that very debate.
On Monday, March 16th, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department continues with its uninterrupted voluntary testing program of the body worn cameras (BWC) at the Jurupa Valley Station. Body Worn Cameras began being issued to Sheriff’s staff this morning at the Jurupa Valley Station.
The Sheriff’s Department has conducted testing of BWC for a number of years, with over 200 of these small cameras in voluntary use throughout Riverside County patrol station operations. It has continued refining the program over time and adopted local and nationwide procedures based on the experience of these numerous agencies. As BWC technology has rapidly increased and been refined, especially over the past year, more and more police agencies have seen these devices fielded, and many of these same procedures have been adopted as agencies share insights, challenges and best practices.
In early November 2014, the Board of Supervisors authorized $384,000 to purchase BWCs in addition to the necessary data storage/retrieval equipment at Jurupa Valley Station to further expand the voluntary testing efforts of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The Department purchased and took delivery of the BWCs at the end 2014. To accommodate the storage of the video recorded by these additional devices at the Jurupa Valley Station, a request for quotes (RFQ) for additional hard drive storage was created. The responses to this request were far in excess of the projected budget, so the RFQ was canceled, revised and reposted. This has caused a delay in the Sheriff’s Department being able to begin fully deploying the new BWCs. The closing date on the newest RFQ was in February 2015. Late this past month, the best and lowest bidder was selected, with the hardware costs finally in line with the original cost estimates of $200,000, and finally met the budget adjustment authorized by the Board of Supervisors for this project this past November.
The Department expects to take delivery of the selected hardware, which is compatible with Hewlett Packard, in late April or early May. In the meantime, the Department was able to create a temporary storage location to store the data that has now allowed the Sheriff’s Department to move forward with its voluntary testing program until that ordered hardware is delivered. The funding for this entire project was approved by the Board of Supervisors as recommended by the Sheriff to come from the Department’s Asset Forfeiture accounts, and without the use of any new General Fund monies being added.
This next phase of the ongoing testing program will help the Department continue evaluating how best to equip deputies in other communities of Riverside County and in our other areas of operation, once this Jurupa Valley test phase is completed. The cameras are expected to add to our existing arsenal of cutting edge technology.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s use of BWC technology will provide value in enhancing officer safety, reduction of liability, assist with prosecution and case resolution, and further promote professionalism and accountability with the communities it serves. These devices are also expected to enhance community policing methods and strengthen relationships with the public and the law enforcement. But the Sheriff also warns that they add considerable complexity in fielding, and are not a panacea in reducing liability or making incidents always clearer.
The “Vievu” brand body camera was selected through an earlier testing phase that included several other brands of cameras. The Vievu camera is an ultra-durable on-officer camera designed to balance both simplicity and performance. The Vievu camera will provide our members with a core unibody design for easy deployment.
This testing phase at Jurupa Valley Sheriff’s Station is expected to last between 90 to 180 days. As has been the ongoing practice, input on these BWCs by end-users from a variety of labor groups will be collected as will changes to refine the department’s SOPs, as we continue to assimilate lessons learned from other agencies.
One of those labor groups, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association (RSA) filed suit in January 2015 alleging that the voluntary testing of BWCs could not proceed without the union’s approval, arguing this was a new program. Upon learning that the Department has issued hundreds of BWC over the past 7 years, RSA recently withdrew and watered down its allegations in the lawsuit. The matter will be resolved in court sometime later this year. In the interim, the RSA action has had no impact on the Department’s voluntary testing program. Contrary to RSA assertions, the use of body camera information is freely allowed by deputies in preparation of their routine reports, just as any other information maintained by deputies are. The only exceptions to this procedure are critical incidents that involve in-custody deaths/injuries and officer-involved shootings or the use of deadly force, where the Department must lawfully conduct objective and credible investigations of our involved officers and staff. Providing video camera information to our involved deputies in those narrow circumstances before they make a statement undermines the public credibility and legal objectivity of those investigations in the Department’s view, allowing the deputy to be coached by having access to the evidence at hand.
Point of Contact: Chief Deputy Kevin Vest