Jul 1 2014

Police Body Camera Policies and Declining Crime

At its June 28 meeting, the Public Safety Committee (PSC) reviewed the Police Department’s Piedmont crime report for the months of January, February and March, 2014. In his June 2 memo, City Administrator Paul Benoit highlighted a 39% decrease in reportable crimes, from 99 to 60,  compared with the first quarter of 2013.

Robberies declined from four to one and burglaries decreased from 46 to 19. Benoit’s memo noted, “Thieves generally drive or walk around an area looking for easy targets.” For home security Benoit emphasized quality locks, motion activated night-lighting and avoidance of thick  landscaping that would conceal burglars. He recommended minimizing exposure of phones and electronic devices in any public setting.  (See the full list of University of California Police Department crime avoidance tips  published by PCA.)

Piedmont’s Automatic License Plate photo system “contributed significantly to five arrests” this year. In addition, this technology aided the recovery of three stolen vehicles in 2013 and four in 2014. Sergeant Catherine Carr, filling in for Chief Goede, acknowledged some performance issues with the Automatic License Plate recorders such as communication.

The Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS) program was originally adopted in AB3229 (Brulte) in 1996 with funding from the state general fund. On June 2, Benoit recommended using Piedmont’s COPS funds to purchase 25 Taser Axon body cameras together with three years of Evidence.com digital evidence storage. The cost was $34,287.31.

The PSC was specifically tasked by City Council to review the Piedmont Police Department Policy for the recently purchased body cameras. The cameras are worn by police officers to record video and audio of officer  interactions with the public. According to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), officer-worn cameras provide accurate documentation of encounters between police and the public, improving behavior and reducing lawsuits against police officers.

Under Piedmont’s policy, officers are to make an effort to record all enforcement and investigative contacts, such as arrests, citations and criminal investigations. The policy also recommends that officers make A/V (audio and video) recordings of pedestrian contacts, interviews and other events.

The public will not be informed if their interaction with the officer is being recorded, unless they ask. The public can submit public records requests to obtain copies of recordings and media personnel can view the recordings with the permission of the Chief of Police.

The body camera policy will be discussed further at the next PSC meeting.

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