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Body cameras to become the new norm for Palo Alto police

City looks to buy 90 body-worn cameras this year

After a year of experimentation, body cameras are about to go mainstream in the Palo Alto Police Department.

The city is preparing to spend $95,000 this year on 90 body cameras for police officers, according to the budget that City Manager James Keene unveiled this week. If the council approves the budget, Palo Alto will join a growing field of agencies preparing to deploy the body-worn technology.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee also proposed this week a budget that includes more than $3 million for body-worn cameras for all police officers. Santa Clara County supervisors last year began investigating the use of the technology for sheriffs, a proposal that was championed by Supervisor Joe Simitian.

Palo Alto began experimenting with body cameras in the police department in early 2014, when it equipped its traffic officers and a few patrol officers with the technology. The pilot project, which the council approved in late 2013, was mostly intended to allow officers, primarily those on motorcycles, to capture footage when they're away from their vehicles.

In addition to the body cameras, all officers also have recording technology in their police vehicles. The department's vehicle fleet has been equipped with cameras since 2006, though last year the technology was upgraded so that each cruiser now has five cameras, the ability to wirelessly upload data and the capability to record things "after fact" by having all of the captured footage sit dormant on a hard drive.

Keene's budget notes that the body-worn cameras will "integrate with and enhance the current in-car camera system, which only captures approximately 40 to 60 percent of police field patrol interactions with the public.

"The use of body-worn cameras will assist in criminal prosecution, potentially reduce civil liability, and aid in the review of alleged misconduct," Keene's budget states.

The $95,000 expenditure also includes funds for digital evidence storage capacity to maintain an archive of the recordings for two years, according to the budget.

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2015 at 9:44 am

A dumb move. Hugely expensive to store and maintain the video. No significant record of abuse so no demonstrated need. Huge problem with invasion of privacy -- 90% or more of police interactions are with people who would not want to be recorded in their moment of distress or whatever. For example, a normally law-abiding citizen drinks too much and is confronted with the police -- his video ends up on You-Tube destroying his life. Or I call the police at night about a prowler outside, and they record me half asleep in my pajamas. It goes on and on.


Like this comment
Posted by Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 2, 2015 at 10:14 am

[Post removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by Thank Goodness
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2015 at 10:37 am

You are naive if you think our police don't suffer from some of the issues we have seen across the country, in terms of racial profiling and otherwise. If you've got nothing to hide, then a camera should be no problem, so I'm glad they're taking this step. If there is a problem, then it will be recorded. Win-win for all.


Like this comment
Posted by Dippy
a resident of Green Acres
on May 2, 2015 at 10:59 am

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Les
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

For every incident of police misconduct, the camera will capture hundreds of times over people behaving stupidly and then later accusing the police of wrongdoing. Or, recording their actions and behavior during an arrest, like a drunk driving or public intoxication. Well served as evidence when the officer goes to court and the defense attorney tries to paint a picture of their client being sober and innocent.

It's good for everybody. Another check and balance for the police to be mindful of their actions, as well as protecting them from false accusations. Potentially great evidence when a criminal needs to be held accountable. Good for the victims of crimes who are being afforded a quality investigation, using the latest technology, toward a resolution of justice.


7 people like this
Posted by Les
a resident of Downtown North
on May 2, 2015 at 12:07 pm

To Howard in Crescent Park, some legitimate concerns. On the issue of affordability, I don't know what it costs to store and maintain the video footage. I know what does cost a lot of money though. Police departments having to pay out millions of dollars having to settle complaints and allegations of misconduct. Another investment aspect of implementing this technology is the essential issue of public trust. I would say there is no price tag high enough to pay for that.


6 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 2, 2015 at 5:48 pm

> don't know what it costs to store and maintain the video footage

There are a number of points to consider—the definition of the recording (720P, 1080P, etc.) determines the length of the recording. The number of minutes the camera was turned on also determines the length of the recording. And the retention period that the video image files are kept on file determines the amount of storage. With disc storage now selling for 50/TB, and maybe $2500/server blade at the same capacity—then the cost of storing these files is not particularly great if the files are erased within a short period of time of their being put into the archive.

Police Body Camera Details--
Web Link

The problem arises from the fact that the Police Department has yet to provide the public with a policy statement about their holding, and public access to, these files. They have not provided any public information about the retention period of the files, or who can gain access to them. This complete dismissal of public concern for the details of the management of these files seems to suggest that we will not know if these files will handled responsibly, or if they will end up in the hands of some person, or group, that will use them in an inappropriate way.


Like this comment
Posted by Question
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2015 at 7:49 pm

I wonder how often these cameras will be turned during interactions.


Like this comment
Posted by it's about time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 4, 2015 at 11:58 am

It's about time. Los Altos Hills are you listening?


3 people like this
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Mountain View
on May 4, 2015 at 3:47 pm

> don't know what it costs to store and maintain the video footage

In addition to Wayne's points about video dimensions and length of recording, it is important to note that digital video is typically compressed to save space using a method called lossy compression. This means some of the data is thrown away because it is deemed to be less important. The more you compress, the more space you save, but with lower image quality and typically higher processing demands.

My guess is that there are cloud-based video storage services that are geared for law enforcement, much like a YouTube or Amazon Web Services for police that has high security as a top priority. These would likely be augmenting a hardware solution (i.e., police department file servers) as well as providing redundancy, off-line archiving, and lower storage costs as well as easier administration.

It would be reasonable to assume these files would be treated the same way that video files from vehicle-mounted cameras are currently being handled.

> I wonder how often these cameras will be turned during interactions.

They could conceivably be used any time the officer steps away from his/her vehicle. After all, a police officer would need it to be recording because they can't predict if something unusual is going to occur.

Per Wayne's link to the Wolfs body camera, 8.5 hours of 1080p video (at 30 frames per second encoded in H.264 format) can be stored on a 32GB memory card. Presumably, the officer would turn off the camera while in the squad car since the vehicles already have cameras and it makes no sense to record six hours of a steering wheel or dashboard.


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