The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury issued a report last Friday endorsing the purchase and installation of video cameras in local police patrol vehicles.
The video recording equipment will siphon $250,000 of the county’s allocated police budget but aims to bring the region’s standard of law enforcement accountability to Santa Barbara and Guadalupe, the only divisions in the county without such devices. The jury’s recommendation comes in light of recent allegations of police brutality and intends to provide unbiased observations during routine proceedings.
According to the jury’s report, other agencies have reported improved interactions between the community and law enforcement as a result of similar devices.
“Both parties may be dealing with unknowns. Citizens may be concerned with the reasons and ramifications of this type of interaction. Law enforcement officers may be concerned with the possibility of a threat that the other party may represent,” the jury’s official report said. “ … A remedy that many law enforcement officials have adopted to reduce, if not eliminate the variation of recollections is to install up-to-date audio/video systems in enforcement vehicles.”
Additionally, Santa Barbara City Council Member Frank Hotchkiss said the cameras will help settle disputes in juridical affairs.
“The advantages for having officers having recording devices are two-sided,” Hotchkiss said. “On one hand you have civilians who may have a different [view] than that of the officer, and on the other you have our boys in blue who are sometimes unfairly criticized.”
However, fourth-year German and philosophy major Gavin Lord said authorities should not rely solely on recordings.
“Cameras in cop cars have been a great development,” Lord said. “But somehow they always seem to be turned or pointed the wrong way at the right time.”
Santa Barbara Police Department Public Information Officer Sergeant Lorenzo Duarte said an incident’s circumstances can potentially occur outside a camera’s field of vision.
“The public believes that everything involving a contact will be recorded,” Duarte said. “Camera systems vary; some systems only record what is in earshot and some systems turn on automatically when the officer initiates their emergency lights while other systems are turned on by the officer. In the case where the system is turned on by the officer, there are those contacts that evolve so quickly that the officer may be in a fight before he or she has had time to turn on the camera.”
The department previously employed video recording equipment in its squad cars until technological advances and financial constraints rendered them obsolete, according to Duarte.
“It will take additional monies to pay for the resources to maintain and support the system,” Duarte said. “Many years ago, the Santa Barbara Police Department did have cameras in 10 of their vehicles. When the system was installed, there was little thought given into the storing, maintaining and supporting the system; it was a VHS system that quickly became outdated.”