When Fresno police fatally shot a man who was stabbing a woman early last Wednesday at an apartment complex in central Fresno, one of the first things Chief Jerry Dyer did upon arriving was to review video from the body cameras belonging to the two officers involved.
The chief said doing so helped him see firsthand how the deadly incident unfolded before he briefed the news media.
The technology is being embraced nationally both by civil-rights activists, seeking more police transparency, and police themselves, to refute accusations of excessive force.
About 240 Fresno officers are wearing body cameras and another 160 are scheduled to be assigned the devices before April. The chief said that while some officers were at first somewhat reluctant to wear the cameras, largely because it was another task that had to be added to a busy work day, it quickly has become part of the job.
Dyer said that in addition to last week’s shooting, the cameras captured videos from four other officer-involved shootings last year. He said they also have recorded an incident in which a suspect threw himself on the ground, sustaining facial injuries, and said he was the victim of excessive force, only to retract the claim when he was told the entire incident was on camera. (Dyer said none of the videos will be released while they remain evidence in investigations.)
The cameras Fresno officers wear are not always recording. Officers are issued lengthy instructions in their usage; for example, they are instructed to turn them on in any situation involving a detention or arrest of a suspect or a traffic stop. They are required to include information about how and when the camera was activated in the police reports they write. They are not required to have them recording casual encounters with citizens.
At the end of an officer’s shift, the camera is placed in a charger and the video is automatically uploaded to web-based storage. Dyer said that no one in the department – including himself – can delete videos. The department can make a special request to the vendor to have a video deleted in special circumstances, such as if an officer mistakenly left his camera recording in a restroom. Such a request is also documented.
The cameras are manufactured by Axon, which also makes police Taser immobilizing devices, at a cost of $2.6 million over five years. The department received a private contribution of $500,000 to pay for them, along with a grant of $1.1 million. The rest of the expense comes from the city’s general fund. As part of the purchase, about 400 Tasers are being provided to upgrade the units officers now carry. The contract also calls for a replacement of the body cameras after 2 1/2 years.
Dyer said there are no plans to equip the department’s cars with dash cams; he said those devices function better with police agencies that primarily make traffic stops, such as the California Highway Patrol. He believes the body cameras are a better fit for the department, and so far it’s made for more effective policing.
“We know there have been situations where, when interactions are starting to escalate, citizens calm down when they are informed they are on video,” Dyer said. He added that the cameras remind officers to act accordingly as well.
Jim Guy: 559-441-6339