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Citrus Heights police chief: body cameras ‘likely,’ but too early

Citrus Heights, police chief
Citrus Heights Police Chief Christopher Boyd highlighted details from a study on body cameras last week. (File photo, CHSentinel)

Updated Aug. 20, 8:58 a.m.–
Body-worn cameras on police officers could likely become a future reality in Citrus Heights, Police Chief Christopher Boyd told somewhat-wary city council members in a presentation last week that summarized pros and cons his department had identified in a council-requested study on the issue.

“I do think this is likely in our future,” the police chief said regarding body cameras, indicating it’s the direction law enforcement is moving toward. “I think there’s a lot of good reasons to have the technology, but I think there’s a lot that needs to evolve in the technology itself.”

Citing general benefits found during his department’s study, Chief Boyd told council members various agencies have reported improved accountability, performance and police behavior after introducing body-worn cameras, with other benefits including better evidence-gathering and the possibility to prevent or resolve “frivolous complaints” against officers. But the chief said the study also found camera benefits differ from department to department, largely depending on the level of trust between the community and police.

Addressing several concerns about the technology, Boyd highlighted privacy issues involved in entering a private home with a camera rolling, the possibility of witnesses being unwilling to cooperate on camera, and the potential for “massive releasing” of video records under California’s Public Records Act. He estimated that requests for public records of the video footage would be “enormous,” and said additional staff time and costs would be involved to “review, redact and scrub” the records of any non-releasable portions prior to release.

The chief also told council members body-worn cameras could send a signal to officers that there’s a lack of trust within the department, but said “most all” of his officers would “embrace” the technology, if implemented. He said the Citrus Heights Police Department (CHPD) tested out various body cameras for several months in studying the issue, but currently have none in use.

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City Attorney Ruthann Zeigler also added her perspective during Boyd’s presentation, telling council members there’s “a tremendous number of unanswered questions” about the use of body cameras — referencing privacy issues, public records requests, and concerns about recording minors.

Boyd said new local policies to handle these concerns could be crafted, but cautioned that cities could end up with “very little local control,” pending the outcome of body camera legislation currently in the California legislature that could end up dictating such policy at the state level.

“I think we have an interest to wait and to watch and see how police might ultimately be regulated under new laws enacted with this kind of technology,” Boyd told the council. “It might be in our interest to make sure we know, before we own technology subject to regulation – what that regulation might be.”

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Boyd said estimated costs involved would include $64,000 to purchase cameras for 80 officers, $250,000 for related staff and IT technician costs, and an annual cloud-storage cost of about $100,000. For an alternative cost of about $300,000 every five years, Boyd said the City could purchase its own servers to host the estimated 300 terabytes of data needed to store and backup video footage. The chief said actual costs were difficult for his department to estimate, citing unknowns like how much staff time would be involved in responding to public records requests, how long videos would be required to be stored, and under what conditions body cameras would need to be recording video.

Council members react:

Although no action was planned or taken on the body camera issue following the police chief’s August 13 council meeting report, all five city council members expressed their reservation over implementing the technology in Citrus Heights, citing concerns like cost and questioning if the cameras are really necessary.

“In Citrus Heights we really don’t have the problems they have in Baltimore or Ferguson,” Mayor Sue Frost said during the meeting. “I don’t ever get complaints about how our police act in our community – I get compliments.”

“I’m not a fan of body cameras at this point,” said Councilman Mel Turner, commenting that the push for body cameras seems to be a reactionary approach to what’s going on in other parts of the country. “I like to take the proactive approach, which is to make sure we hire the right officers in the first place, so we don’t have to have these problems.”

“If you’re having a problem, I would be all for it,” said Councilman Jeff Slowey. “But knowing – at least today – that we’re in a good place with our police department, I personally would be a little hesitant to jump out and spend that kind of money.”

Council members had previously requested the police department study the costs and ramifications of body-worn cameras following national discussion on the topic over the past year, according to Mayor Frost. She said no action related to implementing cameras is anticipated in the near future.

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