By Khalida Sarwari
Foothill-De Anza Community College District police officers this month started wearing body cameras and report it’s been smooth filming so far.
Every one of the department’s 22 officers, including those in community service, received a new AXON Body-2 camera on March 7, said Ron Levine, the district’s police chief.
“I think that the body-worn camera program will be beneficial for the transparency of our community and to help improve relations with our campus community,” Levine said. “In general, they are an outstanding tool that provides a necessary conduit for law enforcement to record actions with the community and it’s a safeguard, both for the public and for the officers.”
The officers find them helpful, too, although it took some getting used to at first. Jeff Ricketts, a sergeant who’s been with the department four years and previously was a police officer at West Valley College and the San Jose Police Department, said he had to overcome some initial self-consciousness but once he adjusted he found that having a camera on him actually made his job easier.
“The great thing about (the cameras) is you always have independent control with you at all times now,” Ricketts said. “I say police work is not always poetry; it sometimes just happens. It’s nice having an independent witness always with you.”
Like all police departments, Levine said his occasionally receives complaints from residents regarding his officers’ behavior. He’s hoping the cameras will help cut down those complaints.
Officers are required to wear the cameras at all times, from the time they clock in to when they’re off duty, Levine said. There are a handful of occasions where officers have discretion to turn the cameras off, he said, such as inside homes, locker rooms, hospitals or jails.
While members of the public are informed that they’re being recorded, they don’t have the right to tell an officer to turn the camera off, Levine said.
“There’s no expectation of privacy in public when you’re dealing with a police officer,” he said. “Just like we can’t tell a citizen not to record us in public.”
Ricketts said cameras help show the officer’s side of the story.
“It’s very common when you’re on a call for service that two or three people are recording, so I’m used to people recording us all the time and this is just another camera recording,” he said.
The cameras, which are no bigger than a box of cigarettes, record audio as well as video. They have a wide-angle view, Levine said, and are capable of capturing as much of the officer’s view as possible. Officers have been instructed to turn the cameras on at the start of every interaction; a 30-second buffer feature captures video footage 30 seconds prior to the start of recording.
All footage gets uploaded to the cloud, where the clips are categorized for easy access. The files have a shelf-life of one year before they’re purged, with the exception of those used in active criminal investigations.
Elias Sayed, a political science student at De Anza, said he was pleased to see the body-worn cameras deployed at his school.
“It’s nice having that extra reassurance,” he said. “We have a lot of students of color coming from marginalized communities and though a body camera doesn’t directly protect them, it adds a sense of security and accountability.”
The department submitted a grant proposal to the U.S. Department of Justice in 2016 for the purchase of body-worn camera technology. The grant, which was around $27,000, covered half the cost of the cameras. The college district’s police department pitched in for the other half.
The officers were trained to use the cameras and accompanying software based on a combination of best practices from body worn camera technology across the U.S. as well as on Santa Clara County Police Chiefs Association protocols and state law, according to Levine.
Though it’s been only a few weeks since the cameras were deployed, Levine said they’ve already paid off in a few cases.
“We’ve done several interviews with individuals where the video was very helpful because of contradictory statements that an individual gave to the officer,” he said.