Camera Action

The Salinas Police Department has been using body cameras for a year. Police Cmdr. Mike Groves says it costs $90 to outfit each police officer every month.

When it comes to outfitting local law enforcement with body cameras – an accessory that, according to research, improves community relations and reduces police use-of-force tactics – officials usually point to funding as the culprit for the lack of equipment.

For about two years, Monterey County law enforcement agencies have shown interest in obtaining the gear. So far, only three agencies have them: the Salinas, Greenfield and King City police departments. These agencies used state grants, private funding and/or their city’s general fund to roll out with the cameras.

The remaining law enforcement agencies, including the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, the largest agency in the county, continue to scramble for cash.

“We would absolutely put cameras on our deputies tomorrow if we could, but we are still trying to figure out the money,” Sheriff’s Cmdr. John Thornburg says.

Thornburg says outfitting the entire 321-deputy department for a five-year period would cost around $2.5 million. For smaller police departments like Seaside, which has 37 officers, the cost is estimated at $122,000.

State Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, says he’s well aware of local agencies’ budgetary constraints, and is working to secure continuous funding for law enforcement agencies statewide to buy cameras and pay for storing hundreds of thousands of hours of video.

“The state should be supportive of local agencies that choose to do this,” Alejo says, “because they are moving in the right direction.”

According to a study published by the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, use-of-force incidents by police dropped by 59 percent and complaints against officers plummeted 87 percent when officers were equipped with body cameras.

Last year, police officers on the Monterey Peninsula shot three people to death within a month. Since then, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, which conducted the investigations into those killings, concluded the officers’ actions were justified because they acted in self-defense and in defense of others. None of those officers were carrying body cameras, and no surveillance video was captured of the incidents.

“This is going to be the future of policing in California,” Alejo says. “There is no excuse why the state should not commit to body cameras.”

So far, Alejo’s quest to secure funding has been successful – but sluggish. Two weeks ago, the Assembly Committee on Public Safety approved a bill to create a state-funded Body Worn Camera Program that would set aside money every year for agencies to implement and maintain body cameras in their departments.

The exact dollar amount that would be allotted for the program has yet to be determined. Alejo says last year there were discussions of setting aside $7 million annually – nickels and dimes when divided among law enforcement agencies statewide. Alejo says he will recommend $25 million.

While Alejo’s bill remains up in the air, Salinas Police Cmdr. Mike Groves points to the crucial role that local government played for them when it came to acquiring the equipment.

“Before we did anything, we had six months of research and talked to city councilmen about it,” Groves says. “It helped we had that when we came back and asked them for money – because then they understood the importance of it.”

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