Santa Barbara Police Install Video in Units After News-Press DUI Series

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Santa Barbara Police Installing Dash Cams in 28 Units:
System Expected to be Running by March.
By Emily Parker News-Press Staff Writer
February 6th, 2013 5:45 AM

More than a year after the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury called for all county law enforcement agencies to install video cameras in their patrol vehicles, the Santa Barbara Police Department’s 28 black-and-white patrol vehicles should be outfitted with dash cameras and new computers by early next week.

Once installers finish equipping the fleet with the $208,000 WatchGuard Video cameras, the department will finish updating its video policy and procedure, test the system and train its more than 140 officers, said spokesman Sgt. Riley Harwood.

Officers should be trained and the video system up and running by March, Sgt. Harwood said.

“We’re working as fast as we can,” he said.

About two months ago, the City Council approved buying the front- and rear-facing cameras with funds already budgeted for fiscal year 2012-13.

“It’s money well spent,” Mayor Helene Schneider told the News-Press on Tuesday. “I’m very pleased that this is going to be a part of our regular operational procedure in the Police Department. I think this is going to help law enforcement and enhance public safety throughout the city.”

Following reporter Peter Lance’s DUI investigative series, the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury released its report calling for video cameras in all county law enforcement patrol vehicles.

At the time, the Santa Barbara and Guadalupe police departments were the only agencies in the county without video capability in all patrol cars.

Mr. Lance said Tuesday the cameras will only be useful if police follow the right procedures.

“The new cameras being installed in the patrol cars will only be effective in stopping misconduct by police if several factors are in place: First, there should be both audio and video of all rolling patrols at all times,” Mr. Lance said Tuesday. “Second, it is imperative that the SPBD issue regulations that all field sobriety tests be conducted within audio and video range of the dash cam units.

“The cameras are only as effective as their ability to watch the police as they conduct their duties,” Mr. Lance said. “The installation in the 28 units is a victory, but it will be a limited one if the aforementioned protocol isn’t put in place.”

One of the first test video cameras in a Santa Barbara Police Department patrol vehicle captured the controversial Oct. 21, 2011, DUI arrest of Tony DeNunzio in Loreto Plaza. Some witnesses accused police of using excessive force. Police accounts described Mr. DeNunzio as not complying with an officer’s verbal commands to get back into his vehicle.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to file any charges with regard to excessive force by the arresting officer, and charged Mr. DeNunzio with driving under the influence.

Sgt. Harwood said the operational policy likely will include what types of incidents officers should record, when staff should check the equipment, and how officers should handle the wireless microphone.

On Monday, a crew started installing the HD cameras, faster processors, higher quality modems and new keyboards two cars at a time in the Police Department’s parking lot.

It takes about 21/2 hours to outfit one car. Outfitting the fleet, including three Animal Control Division trucks, should take five to six days, Sgt. Harwood said.

“It’s definitely something that will be beneficial for us and something the public expects,” he said.

The department will likely spend between $5,000 and $6,000 annually on system maintenance and needs one full-time employee to manage the cameras, video footage and records requests, Sgt. Harwood said.

He said the department has no plans to hire additional personnel at this time, but he declined to say how the position would be covered.

While the cameras are always on, storing 24 hours worth of material at any one time, certain events, such as officers activating the flashing lights on top of the car, unlocking a rifle or turning on the microphone, can trigger the cameras to start a recording that will automatically and wirelessly download to servers at the police station, rather than just being stored on the camera.

The 24-hour video bank stored on the cameras gives officers “a unique ability to go back in time” and see something “we don’t know is significant at the time,” Sgt. Harwood said.

Attorney Darryl Genis, who represented Mr. Lance in the DUI case, said allowing officers control of recording is a concern.

“What bank or other business allows its rank and file employees to control when the camera monitoring business activities is on or off? The camera is always on,” said attorney Darryl Genis. “There must be a stringent protocol for the collection, storage, preservation, review and use of the digital audio/video record by both police and public citizens, as needed.”

This is not the first time the department has used cameras in patrol cars. About half of the department’s cars had cameras for three to four years starting in the late 1990s, Sgt. Harwood said.

He described the previous VHS units as large and cumbersome.

“It’s not a system we were able to maintain. The miniaturization of the technology (now) is a plus,” he said as he held the system’s microphone – a small pager-like device – in the palm of his hand.

When events happen outside the range of the camera, the HD microphone can record sound as far as 1,400 feet away, Dennis Diaz, police information technology manager, told City Council members at their Dec. 4 meeting.

The HD video will be able to read license plates as far as 38 feet away, compared to regular video that can read license plates at 15 feet, Mr. Diaz said.

In addition, the video system has event tracking, which can chronologically track police car activity, including the car’s speed and when lights and sirens are turned on and off, he said.

email: eparker@newspress.com

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