Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian on Dec. 12 recommended the county explore the feasibility of having sheriff's deputies wear body cameras to protect the public from officer misconduct and officers from unfounded allegations.
Simitian said that the idea of body cameras for deputies has been floating around in the county, and given recent incidents of alleged police wrongdoing across the nation, he felt it was time to direct staff to study and report on the desirability of using them.
Body worn cameras would not eliminate instances of alleged officer misconduct, but they could help the county reduce the risk, he said.
"Like everyone else around the country, I have watched these instances unfold," Simitian said. "I'm really convinced that body-worn cameras can make a difference."
Based on research by his staff, Simitian said he thinks that body-worn cameras on deputies would reduce misconduct including excessive force against the public, assist deputies in cases of unsupported charges and help increase the public's confidence in law enforcement and other public institutions.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen has been working with the county's Police Chief's Association on protocols for deploying the cameras and Sheriff Laurie Smith earlier this year proposed using funds from a 2012 tax measure to purchase the technology, he said.
Simitian cited a 16-month study conducted in the city of Rialto in southern California that he said found body cameras worn by police reduced use of force incidents by 50 percent and citizen complaints against officers by nearly 90 percent.
A number of police agencies in the county already use body-worn cameras, including the cities of Gilroy, Los Gatos and Campbell, and Mountain View plans to begin deploying them next year, he said.
Palo Alto police have tested the use of body cameras with select officers and is considering implementing them throughout the force.
The Sheriff's Department also has employed body cameras, and vehicle-mounted ones, on a limited basis and has described the experience as generally positive, according to Simitian.
Simitian's proposal to have the county staff investigate and report on the feasibility and desirability of body-worn camera will be discussed at the Board of Supervisors' next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 16, at the County Government Building in San Jose.
San Jose police recently announced a planned pilot project, to start at a future date, involving 12 officers who have volunteered to wear body cameras so the department can learn about the management and the cost of such a program.
The use of body-worn cameras and policies regarding them recently came under scrutiny in Menlo Park, when officers fatally shot a burglary suspect. Two of the three officers were wearing body cameras, but only one turned his on, and only after the suspect had been shot.