City taps state grant for CPD body worn cameras

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Last week the Claremont City Council agreed to purchase body worn cameras for the Claremont Police Department, satisfying a long-term goal of both city management and many residents.

By a unanimous vote, the council authorized acting City Manager Adam Pirrie to sign a “sole source” contract with WatchGuard in an amount not to exceed $76,720 for the purchase of the cameras along with associated equipment, software and licensing.

The cameras will be paid for through the Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS); Supplemental  Law Enforcement Services Funds grant spending plan. The grant is an annual allocation from the state of California to local law enforcement agencies to supplement frontline police activities, according to Mr. Pirrie. This year’s grant is $130,000.

The body camera purchase agreement had been on the consent calendar during last Tuesday’s city council meeting, indicating that city staff felt the issue was routine in nature. However, it was pulled for discussion after several members of the public expressed concerns about spending limited public safety funds on the cameras and questioned their efficacy.

Police commissioner Becky Margiotta mentioned the shooting of Breonna Taylor, in which a police officer is alleged to have shut off his body worn camera, and wanted the council to ensure that Claremont officers would be required to have the cameras on and recording continuously.

“I do think it is important that it not be discretionary whether to have the camera on but to have it on 100 percent of the time,” Ms. Margiotta said. “Technology is only as good as the rules and the spirit within which it’s created.”

Josue Barnes, of the grassroots organization Claremont Change, asked for clarification about the camera’s funding source and whether the money could be used for other police department expenses or to help fund the Psychiatric Assessment Care Team partnership with Tri-City Mental Health. He also questioned whether the cameras really worked to protect the public.

“There are a lot of studies that show the ineffectiveness of body worn cameras. Even if you look at WatchGuard’s website, the way that they are selling these body worn cameras is to protect officers and that is interesting because I thought officers were supposed to be protecting us,” Mr. Barnes said.

Former city council candidate Christine Margiotta asked the council to define the problem that is being solved by spending money on the cameras.

“This is a significant amount of funds and my question would be how are we prioritizing the precious resources in our city and what is the problem we believe we are solving for with these body worn cameras?” Christine Margiotta asked. “Is there solid evidence that this implementation solves that problem?”

She also asked how the city planned to fund ongoing maintenance and training involved with the program.

Longtime Claremont resident Murray Monroe spoke out in favor of the cameras but also had some words of warning for the city. “I don’t know if you remember the Irvin Landrum story, but I am sure that cost the city quite a bit of money,” he said, referring to the 1999 officer involved shooting in Claremont.

“I think having the body worn cameras gives two sides to the story, the police officer and the victim,” He added. “We have a visual enactment of what is going on. So I think this is something that is a necessity.” He also said if officers turned their body cameras off that should be grounds for dismissal, especially when there are shootings or death involved.

“The community has been asking the police department and the city to get body worn cameras for years. We have presented the program to both the city council and police commission in the past and we have been asked to find a way to move forward,” Police Chief Shelly VanderVeen said. “The purpose of the body worn cameras is simply best evidence regardless if that is for or against an officer. Technology allows us to achieve video evidence and that is the purpose of body worn cameras.”

In response to funding option questions, Mr. Pirrie, the acting city manager, said the allocation of Citizens Option for Public Safety grants is dependent on passage of the state’s budget so the city has always treated that money as a one time source. As such, it would typically pay for acquisition of equipment rather than ongoing operational costs of the police department.

In 2014, the police department purchased a WatchGuard in-car video system, which was installed in each of the city’s patrol vehicles and in 2016 the video systems were installed on the traffic bureau motorcycles. The WatchGuard body worn cameras will integrate with the existing in-car system, working seamlessly as a single system, capturing synchronized video of an incident from multiple vantage points, according the Chief VanderVeen.

The delay in purchasing the cameras was due the lack of funding for storage of the video and anticipated staff time for redaction of videos, both of which have been solved by the advancements in the technology, including redaction software. The chief estimates that future costs will be $4,000 for the redaction software and annual maintenance and warranty costs of $13,000 which will be added to the police department budget. These costs could be paid with future COPS grants.

Before the cameras can be put into use, the department will have to adopt strict policies and procedures through the input of the police commission, an effort that is likely to take six months, according to the chief. The cameras will not be used until the policies are in place.

“We will work with the police commission to implement polices and procedures so those expressing their concerns will have ample opportunity to provide their feedback as we develop those policies and procedures,” Chief VanderVeen said.

The remaining $63,720 in grant money will be used for the acquisition of a new police dog; the annual stipend given to the trauma intervention volunteer; wireless communications for mobile data computers; equipment for the Foothill Special Enforcement Team member including a tactical vest and hard body armor; FileOn-Q software including maintenance; and overtime pay for directed traffic enforcement including patrols to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety.

“For over six years I have heard from the community that they want our officers to have body worn cameras,” Councilmember Ed Reece said just prior to the vote. It started before I was on the police commission, during my time on the commission and when I was chair. And as of last week. I heard from a community member [asking] when our officers were going to get body worn cameras. It is my hope that having this will be a benefit to our community.”

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