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Supervisor Frost: 3 reasons why I support body cameras

Guest opinion column by County Supervisor Sue Frost–
It is a difficult time to be a police officer in the United States. While it may or may not be fair, incidents across the country have left many people feeling deeply negative towards how officers handle difficult situations. In response, many departments are equipping their officers with body cameras.

Sue Frost, supervisor
Sue Frost

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I bring this up because it was recently announced that the Sacramento County Sheriff will soon be conducting research to identify possible vendors to supply the department with body cameras for officers to wear. In a day and age where transparency, accountability, and building trust are more important than ever for departments across the country, I applaud our Sheriff for seriously looking at implementing this emerging technology.

I have three main reasons for supporting body cameras.

First, the video collected by body cameras helps juries paint an accurate picture of what happened in an incident. Whether that comes in the form of helping convict more criminals, or proving the innocence of the accused, society is better off for it. It will also provide clarity in cases of suspected police misconduct, as corrupt police officers will be more likely to be caught, and the honorable ones will be more likely to be exonerated.

Speaking of police misconduct, my second reason for supporting body cameras is that it causes improved behavior by everyone involved. Officers tend to be on better behavior when they know they are being watched, and the likelihood of citizens acting aggressively towards officers also diminishes. It also allows officers to review their own footage and improve how they handle their interactions. Speaking personally, when I was interviewed on TV for the first time I cringed a little as I evaluated my performance, but it served as a great learning opportunity and helped me improve.

My third reason is because it quantifiably reduces complaints and related expenses, as departments across the country are seeing positive results. In one study performed by the Rialto police department, it was found there was a 60% reduction in use of force incidents and an 88% reduction in the number of citizen complaints. I also believe these cameras could present a fantastic opportunity for the Sheriff’s Department to give the public a good idea of what the average day is like for an officer and potentially highlight the everyday good that officers do for our community.

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But while there are numerous proven benefits to recording police interventions, there are also potential pitfalls, and this makes the careful approach the Sheriff is taking all the more important.

Like all new technology, there are large upfront costs associated with the cameras. This cost takes the form of the physical cost of the cameras themselves, and also the cost of storing the evidence and public records requests. While agencies certainly save time collecting and managing digital photographic evidence – video evidence requires an investment in either cloud-based storage systems or physical storage hardware, both of which are expensive.

I also have concerns about personal privacy while officers are in private residences and how evidence that could impact the outcome of a trial would be managed. Additionally, there’s also the problem of doing too much too fast, as when you have been doing the same job for twenty or more years, it can be a challenge to suddenly change procedures.

But these issues should be solvable. It seems clear that bodycams for our deputies could be worthwhile if we implement them carefully, and based on initial results from other agencies who are using bodycams, they can potentially add clarity and save money in the long run. The Citrus Heights Police Department will benefit by this as well. There are many lessons that they can learn from the Sheriff’s Department, who share most of their jurisdictional borders with Citrus Heights.

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost formerly served as a Citrus Heights councilwoman and currently represents District 4, which includes Citrus Heights. She currently is seeking input on a community survey which can be taken online by clicking here. She can also be contacted at (916) 874-5491, or SupervisorFrost@saccounty.net.

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