Cameras, Action

Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin expects body-worn cameras to capture about 80,000 videos a year, most of which he believes will show positive, courteous interactions. "Fundamentally, it’s about trust, accountability and transparency," he says.

As Walter Scott fled Police Officer Michael Slager in North Charleston, South Carolina, Slager fired eight shots. Five bullets hit Scott as he ran, three in the back, one in the ear, one in the buttocks. Slager was charged with murder.

The public knows this story because a bystander captured the horrific scene with a cell phone camera. The horrifying video shows Scott running away, Slager firing, then Scott falling dead.

This is the sort of hand-held video clip showing a police confrontation that has become ubiquitous, along with a national chorus criticizing police and how they use force. A cell phone video captured the last 2 minutes of Carlos Mejia’s life on the corner of North Sanborn Road and Del Monte Avenue in Salinas last year as two officers shot and killed him.

Knowing that bystanders are increasingly recording, law enforcement agencies are beginning to do the same.

Salinas Police will join the ranks of officers wearing body cameras while on duty, with a five-year contract to purchase 70 cameras.

City Council voted 7-0 to authorize SPD’s contract, with manufacturer Taser International, for a total cost of about $390,000 over five years. The cost includes required software to upload and store video footage.

SPD successfully fundraised for the first-year costs with a $100,000 grant from the Monterey Peninsula Foundation and $50,000 from the State Board of Community Corrections.

Salinas Police Officers Association President Gabe Carvey says the union accepts that body cams are coming. But instead of spending money on cameras, which he estimates could cost $1 million over five years, he says SPD needs to get more cops on the streets, or to boost pay for cops who have gone eight years without a raise.

“We understand the national dialogue,” Carvey says. “We don’t have our heads in the sand. However, the timing is backwards to us.”

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Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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